As published in Asheville Citizen-Times,
May 29, 2011.
Budget cuts should not sacrifice a generation of teachers
There is no question that these are difficult financial times in North Carolina. Clearly, all elements of the state need to share in the economic pain that will result from budget cuts. That said, proposed cuts to funding for education will have dire consequences for the future of our state, hampering our ability to have an educated citizenry because of the effect of those cuts on the preparation of teachers.
When you look to the preparation of a teacher, you look at four things: get the right people into teacher education programs; prepare them effectively to become teachers; support those teachers during their early years in the profession; and keep them professionally vital during their careers.
Let's take the issue of professional development—or, better put, “professional vitality”—of teachers. Ongoing teacher development is extremely important. While all of the school systems in Western North Carolina support teacher professional development, when it comes to budget-cutting time, professional development money often is one of the first parts of the systems' budgets to be reduced because they have an indirect, rather than an obvious direct, effect on student instruction.
If the choice is between cutting teacher positions and cutting professional development dollars, the answer is obvious, and it is hard to quarrel with that argument. At the same time, we know that when professional development is effectively delivered, it enhances teachers' content knowledge about the disciplines they teach, helps them deliver that content even more effectively to enhance student achievement, and keeps them current. The bottom line of teacher professional development is increased student academic achievement.
That leaves us with state-sponsored professional development entities such as the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching and others. Do places such as NCCAT need to share in the pain of our state's necessary budget reduction? Absolutely. Do they need to be crippled by excessively pruning back their capacity to be a force in teacher vitality and effectiveness and increased student achievement? Absolutely not.
Why? Here are a few facts about NCCAT that perhaps have gotten lost in the budget discussions:
- NCCAT's budget covers all expenses for participating teachers–room, board, materials and the cost of a substitute if they attend NCCAT during the school year.
- NCCAT always has served all N.C. public school teachers, including those who teach in charter schools. Last year, 79 teachers from 32 charter schools attended NCCAT.
- NCCAT seminars are aligned with the N.C. standard course of study and professional teaching standards.
- NCCAT was founded 25 years ago but has continued to evolve over time in order to meet the changing needs of education in North Carolina. All totaled, NCCAT has served approximately 60,000 teachers. At present, about 3,000 teachers a year are served by NCCAT.
- NCCAT is doing significant work with beginning teachers; almost half of the teachers who have come to NCCAT in the past five years have been teaching for 10 years or less. Teachers who go through the NCCAT beginning teachers programs are much more likely to remain in teaching than the statewide average. It is very expensive to recruit/induct new employees. The Friday Institute at N.C. State University conducted a study in 2007 that estimated the cost of teacher turnover in North Carolina at $80 million per year. There is a strong argument to be made that the small investment the state makes in NCCAT helps save the state many times more in recruitment/induction costs.
- NCCAT works closely with school systems and some universities, such as Western Carolina University, in delivering professional development experiences for teachers.
These facts suggest that there is a tremendous amount of support for NCCAT in our state. In one example, one of my colleagues at WCU, Bruce Henderson, has noted: “NCCAT is one of our state's jewels. If our political system cannot find a way to support NCCAT it will quite literally set teacher recognition and renewal in North Carolina back 25 years. That will truly be a shame. For the economic and cultural future of our state, it will be a very expensive shame.”
The May 18 editorial in the Asheville Citizen-Times
argued that proposed cuts in the education budget most likely would end up sacrificing this generation along the way. Without supporting professional development of teachers in ways that NCCAT does, we might be sacrificing a generation of teachers, as well.
A. Michael Dougherty is professor emeritus of counseling and former dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions at Western Carolina University.