Yes, NC, We Do Need Teaching Assistants

5343186584_03b941c7cb_oDo you want smaller class sizes in elementary schools? Clearly that’s a no-brainer. But here’s the real question: what would you give up to get your kid into a class with 10 or 13 desks instead of the state average of 20?

The NC Senate has proposed a budget that would defund roughly half of our state’s teaching assistant positions in lieu of adding 2,000 teachers in 1st through 3rd grade. Our kids’ class sizes could shrink under this plan, but the reality is, it would actually decrease student-teacher ratios across the board.

It’s simple math — even my first grader could figure this one out. Subtract 5,000 teaching assistants from classrooms and add 2,000 teachers. What you get is a net decrease in the amount of adult hours available to kids.

In my children’s school, teaching assistants are the silent heroes. They take classes to lunch, the library, or the playground, allowing classroom teachers much-needed planning time. They mind the kids while teachers give one-on-one reading instruction or subject children to the endless tests required to monitor progress. They keep kids on task, and help diverse groups of learners coexist in the same classroom.

But hey — if a bunch of out-of-touch jerks in suits in Raleigh see all those contributions as extraneous, maybe we should listen. Right? For the last few years lawmakers have shown how little they value public education. They’ve created shameful pay gaps for experienced teachers, cut funding for classroom supplies, and have repeatedly shrunk programs such as pre-k that help level the playing field for all of NC’s students.

I have to wonder how much time the folks writing these budgets have spent in classrooms. To start with, where are schools going to house all of these extra classes? Most schools I’ve been in recently haven’t had a surfeit of empty space. Past that, how is a 1st grade teacher with 15 students going to handle them all? Consider that teacher will be facing kids new to English, children with learning or attention disabilities, and increasing demands of individualized assessment and testing.

I’m pleased the crafters of the senate budget have an eye to value. The plan would save taxpayers 2.2% in its first year. But just like when I examine my household finances, there are some things we just can’t scrimp on. It’s trite to say the kids are our future, but darn it, they are! We owe it to our state and to our families to build a strong, healthy foundation for our future.

That means giving our kids the best education we can afford. It means putting more adults in the classroom, not fewer. And it means valuing the professionals we trust with our children– both with competitive pay and by not laying them off based on a budgetary whim.




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