“Discipline your children, or someone who doesn’t love them will,” a friend with older children once advised us. I thought of that admonition when Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger revealed the Senate’s “Excellent Public Schools Act.” Berger and the Senate leadership essentially told educators “reform public education to produce better results or else the legislature will.”
The Senate proposals need more definition but there are elements worthy of consideration. The plan begins with the premise that all North Carolina third graders read at grade level before they can be promoted. How can anyone be against this when studies show 39 percent of our third graders failed to read at grade level last year? The “Read to Learn” proposal appears patterned after the plan working successfully in Florida. As Berger correctly said, “The fourth grade is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn.”
Aside from the parent, the classroom teacher is the most important element in learning so we need a way to measure accountability and reward performance. The ABC program was designed to do so but failed. The Senate plan would require each local school system to develop a merit pay plan to reward effective teachers, put teachers on yearly contracts and abolish teacher tenure, a failed concept that promotes mediocrity, not excellence. The new “North Carolina Teachers Corp” would make it easier for newly trained teachers and older professionals to enter the classroom.
There are other good points. One requires that end-of-grade and end-of-course testing be conducted in the closing days of the term, instead of mid-May, weeks before school ends. All too frequently movies, field trips and the like occupy the last weeks of school. Following President Obama’s call for more rigor the plan would extend the school year from 180 to 185 days, establishing the opening day no earlier than the last Friday in August and the end of school no later than June 10th.
We are disappointed that newspaper editorialists, educators and Democrats so quickly dismissed the Senate plan without honest consideration. Their response always is “show us more money and we will show you improvement.” While there is some correlation between education funding and education outcomes, too often the cry for more funding sounds like a defense or excuse for less than excellent performance We believe Republicans cut the education budget too deeply, but we also agree just spending more money doesn’t automatically equate to student achievement.
There are good things taking place in many of our public classrooms. Having acknowledged that, there are enough failures to insist on reforms. Educators have nibbled around the edges of reform long enough. New policies and new technologies, coupled with improved and proven learning techniques are needed to make dramatic gains in education and, yes, the implementation of these reforms will likely require more money.
Let’s call a halt to the partisan finger pointing, to blind support for one group over another and, like parents, let us become advocates for the best outcomes for our students. We can do better. We must do better and it is time adults acted like adults, finding solutions to education shortcomings. The Excellent Public Schools Act may not have all the right answers, but it is worth consideration.