It's a Wrap…comments on the week's happenings

Published March 9, 2014

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and Moderator, NC SPIN, March 9, 2014.

Lowering the bar

Is it just me or does it seem like any time we try to establish higher standards in public education we end up lowering the cut scores, making tests easier or just ignoring them when people howl? Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is right about his Read to Achieve law. Third grade is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Holding back a student who cannot read at a third-grade level is not a punishment….it is an acknowledgment that, for whatever the reason, the child isn’t ready to move into the reading to learn phase of education. If they cannot read they are certain to fall behind.

So, if too many third-graders are failing the test let’s lower the passing score.

Perhaps the tests weren’t properly designed. Maybe the scoring was too rigid. Maybe the State Board of Education knows something they haven’t explained very well. But it looks for all the world like another case of lowering expectations of our students. And this is going to help them how?

And this isn’t a comment about the poor job our teachers are doing. If you had to put up with the discipline problems, special needs, high achievers and slow learners most of our teachers deal with every day you would pull your hair out. Yes, we have some poor teachers and we need them out of our classrooms. But we also have many excellent ones and don’t treat them fairly.

I liked what Daniel Pink, think-tank guru, had to say at this year’s Emerging Issues Forum on teachers. Let’s take teacher pay off the table. Pay the teachers an excellent salary then hold them to very high standards. Test scores is only one measure. Face it; the principals, the parents and other teachers all know the great teachers and the poor ones. While we take pay off the table we also need to take charges of mediocre and poor teachers off the table.

Teacher tenure…right diagnosis, wrong prescription

Teacher tenure, like any tenure, has a way of protecting the mediocre and poor teachers and is a bad idea. Most of the good teachers I’ve talked with say they don’t need it.

Our legislators knew the abolishment of teacher tenure was going to create major angst within the ranks of educators. Instead of just doing the dirty deed, they compounded the problem by this convoluted four-year guaranteed contract with a pay bonus as a sweetener for those who accept the abolishment. Who ever thought that was going to be satisfactory? Now they’re getting what they deserved as school system after school system refuses to accept this poor solution.

Wasn’t there some other way to accomplish this? How about a phase-in with all incoming teachers?

The new SAT

America’s students rank 12th in the world – 32nd in math. So why is the SAT changing their scoring? Looks like yet another case of us saying we don’t like the scores so let’s lower the bar so we will feel better about ourselves. Am I wrong?

The ADHD Explosion

North Carolina is one of the top states demonstrating an increase in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD. Author Stephen Hinshaw says it is wonderful that we are more attentive to these issues in our students. But he notes in his book, “The ADHD Explosion,” that our nation has seen an increase of 40 percent in the past decade. Are there that many undiagnosed or misdiagnosed students, he asks?

Hinshaw suggests another reason for the tremendous increase, especially in North Carolina. He credits high stakes testing as the culprit for the increased diagnoses. Children who have this diagnosis, he says, are exempted from being counted in end-of-grade and achievement scores.

How big a problem is this in North Carolina?

Dems need a Tom Fetzer

North Carolina’s Democratic Party is a train wreck as evidenced by the fact that former Governor Jim Hunt has formed what is essentially a “shadow” party, an independent expenditure organization to raise money for and help elect Democrats.

The current state of the Party is reminiscent of the state GOP not so many years ago. Weak candidates, tepid fundraising and disorganization caused leaders to take serious stock of where they were and where they wanted to be. Sensing that there was voter angst over the big spending, ever-growing state government led by Democrats the Republican Party decided they needed to clean house and start over. We remember the big fight to become chairman but hindsight shows the GOP made the right call by hiring Tom Fetzer. He deserves a lot of credit for the victories of 2010 and 2012.

Democrats need someone like Fetzer right now. We will see Chairman Randy Voller decides when the executive committee meets this weekend.

One thing Fetzer demanded was that every legislative district was to have a Republican file to run, no matter how gerrymandered the district or how entrenched the Democrat might be. Fetzer’s logic, and it is one Democrats should have learned, is that when a politician, like, say a Marc Basnight, has an opponent in the General Election, the incumbent HAS to spend time and money in the district waging a respectable campaign. That’s time and money they cannot be spending on behalf of one of their buddies.

The good, bad and ugly of government

The Dan River coal ash spill has opened a festering wound in state government, one that has been around for decades. There’s a fine line that needs to be walked between promoting and encouraging the road-building, home construction, clean water management and power generating we demand to meet the needs of a growing state, while preserving and protecting our environment. Going too far toward the protection side makes permitting and operation unduly burdensome. On the other hand being too business-friendly, counting on businesses (or people) to do the right thing can also lead to problems. Politics should not enter into the decisions made but we now know it has for many years. If there is any good to come from this current crisis perhaps it is the realization that we must all be vigilant. Trust but verify.


After all the disgust expressed by those opposed to having to present an ID to vote aren’t you just a little bit surprised there hasn’t been any negative response to the Employment Security Commission’s new requirement that those receiving unemployment checks must present an ID?

Cowell’s conundrums

SEANC, the State Employees Association of North Carolina, has it in for State Treasurer Janet Cowell. Is it personal? Hard to say, but they also weren’t fond of her predecessor, Richard Moore. It’s a curious relationship since Cowell is in charge of administering both the State Health Plan as well as the Teachers and State Employees Retirement System.

The big issue appears to focus on who makes the investment decisions for public pension plans. SEANC doesn’t like the fact that the final decision for billions in investments resides with the Treasurer. They are correct in saying that is a tremendous responsibility for one person.

Is there a better way? People in the industry say public plans, following suit from the private sector, should convert from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans, then allow each employee the opportunity to choose from a menu of investment options for his or her own account.

Looks to us like that solves a lot problems.

March 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm
Tom Hauck says:

Thank you, Tom, for an excellent column.

Regarding the children, the professional educators do not want to take the responsibility of teaching every child -- they blame the parents or hunger or some other excuse but at the same time they do not want to allow the child to go to a school that will teach the child.

Darrell Allison at Parents for Educational Freedom - North Carolina at would be an excellent contact and source.

Read any of Karin Chenoweth's books. Almost all children can learn but it takes a school that is dedicated to teaching them, in the way that they learn.