On February 13th, USA Today posted a lengthy article titled, NC fails in screening for problem teachers.
I read it. All of it. I also watched the embedded videos. It’s horrifying for a laundry list of failure to protect our children.
Let me say that I was not in the least bit surprised about what USA Today found about teachers slipping through the system.
I’m not surprised because for quite some time, I’ve been following this national trend of teachers having sex with students, physically abusing students and teachers being arrested for various reasons.
I’ve even chronicled some of it myself, but stopped because it was just so damn depressing. I just might have to take it up again though. This is a topic that no one seems to want to talk about, yet if it were a Priest abusing a young boy, there would be wall-to-wall coverage on all major networks.
What I did find surprising was the way state educrats and officials tried to rationalize it by blaming the atmosphere after a State Board of Ed member was murdered and of course, the ever popular blamestorming excuse of ‘budget cuts’:
“The State Superintendent of Public Instruction received the report along with the State Board of Education and it was exactly at the time the most severe cuts in the recession came to our agency and we to date have not recovered from those cuts and additional resources would need to be appropriated from the General Assembly,” Cornetto said.
“With respect to the fingerprinting in particular, the State Board would need legislative authorization to be able to do the fingerprinting from the state level.”
But in the six years that have passed, the department has done little to generate support for an issue that it recognized as a problem.
But wait, there’s more — Apparently, poor screening is excusable because ‘districts are hungry for teachers’ and it would cause ‘delays’ in hiring:
Carol Vandenbergh, executive director of the Professional Educators of North Carolina, was also a task force member and said she has some concerns about the recommendations. Among them, she said, is if background checks at the state level take too long, it could hamper already beleaguered schools by delaying the arrival of needed educators.
“I’m kind of mixed about all this, because yes, I think it’s positive when you have a little bit of a more rigid system, so you are ensuring the right people are in the classrooms around these children,” she said. “But yet I know we have such a problem recruiting and retaining teachers that any barriers you put on getting teachers into the classroom is something that will be difficult for us to accept.”
These excuses are all beyond the pale and should be fed back to those making them. Ms. Vandenbergh’s statement arguably might be worse than Cornetto’s.
I can already see Dr. Atkinson with her usual go-to response of, ‘It’s the General Assembly’s fault’.
Let me cut her off at the pass — No ma’am. It’s yours. This happened on your watch. You are responsible for the safety and welfare of our state’s students.
Excerpt, emphasis added:
In reviewing states, the USA TODAY NETWORK handed North Carolina an F, ranking it among the worst states in the country for screening teachers.
The Citizen-Times found education officials throughout the state – including in Asheville and Buncombe County– have long recognized the system for screening prospective teachers is antiquated and should be streamlined, but flaws have not been addressed to better protect students.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction years ago assembled a statewide task force to address the issue, but failed to push its concerns to state lawmakers, who were needed to pass legislation on some measures.
If this ‘fell through the cracks’ of DPI’s task force, then that is one helluva crack. It was not the General Assembly’s job to do YOUR job.
On the national level, and particularly among Southeastern states, North Carolina is known as a “cesspool,” welcoming questionable educators other states have rejected, said Bob McGrattan, former assistant superintendent of human resources for Asheville City Schools.
Shortly before his retirement, McGrattan headed the task force, and in 2010, the group’s two dozen members issued a report with 15 recommendations to strengthen the system and bring it in line with best practices in other states.
Many of the recommendations called for centralizing oversight at the state level, rather than across North Carolina’s 115 school districts, which are now charged with backgrounding teacher candidates.
None of the recommendations were implemented.
“We found out in the task force that it’s much harder to get a license to be a Realtor or a fireman or a cosmetologist than it was to be a teacher,” said McGrattan, who retired in 2012 after 25 years with Asheville city schools. “But it basically went nowhere because it involved money. Some states are very diligent about that whole process. If you’re allowing a person to teach in the state of North Carolina, North Carolina should be able to say, ‘This person meets our requirements.’ Currently, that’s not the case.”
That’s an incredible set of admissions about the people who spend the majority of the week with out children. Having said that, I am sure the vast majority of our teachers are upstanding individuals who are likely as outraged by this report as everyone else.
If you continue down the article, there is a section where USA Today lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s background checks on teachers.
For North Carolina, it breaks down like this:
Strong: “Strong mandatory reporting of teacher misconduct” and “Detailed information online about teacher disciplinary actions”
Weak: “Many teachers’ misconduct not shared with other states” and “Weak screening, left to local school districts”
Now, if there is such strong mandatory and detailed reporting going on and we know just from reported news stories in North Carolina that there is a big problem here, then there is a huge question to be asked: Why hasn’t anyone revived the recommendations of the DPI taskforce for background checks??
The article makes the point that nationally the way problem teachers are tracked is “fragmented”. However, that does not excuse North Carolina from what is clearly negligent behavior with regards to teacher screening.
I am sure there will be more to come on this topic. Watch for the DPI spin machine to kick into high gear.