Editorial: New state education chief - Public schools are key to community prosperity, don't marginalize them
Posted January 9
A CBC Editorial: Monday, Jan. 9, 2017; Editorial# 8108
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Last Thursday newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson called North Carolina’s public schools badly outdated. Change was urgently needed. “If we don’t act with urgency, we will continue to betray students and we will continue to lose teachers and have difficulty retaining and recruiting them.”
A day later Johnson’s adviser Jonathan Felts, a Raleigh political consultant and former adviser to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, put the brakes to that “urgency,” clarifying that it would be “several months” before Johnson would reveal specific plans for the state’s public schools.
But Johnson did reveal what he considers the current state of public schools:
- A system “designed for students in the 1950s”
- Schools that give diplomas to students “that are not prepared for college or the workforce.”
Johnson says he’s embarking on a tour to meet with teachers, parents, students, and community leaders around the state to develop his “vision of action items.” He will need to learn, and act, quickly if he wants to make meaningful change. He’ll also need to be independent – focusing on what is best for students and teachers -- not on what fits the latest educational fad, social ideology, or the whims of powerful legislators.
While on his tour, the General Assembly will making education policy for him. Before he discovers it's too late, he needs now to work with the State Board of Education on priorities and programs the legislature should enact to support and improve our state's public schools.
He’ll need to avoid ideological fads that marginalize our public schools. Quality public schools are more than places to prepare children for the future. They are the driving force in attracting economic growth and community prosperity.
Here is what needs to be on top of Johnson’s priority list:
- Demand competitive compensation for teachers and principals. North Carolina is the nation’s ninth-largest state, yet our school professionals are among the worst paid in the nation. It is time to end the neglect and reverse the damage that’s been done.
- Reestablish the Teaching Fellows Program. As Johnson’s noted, retaining and recruiting teachers is already difficult. Bringing back this program that attracts the best-and-brightest to North Carolina classrooms will help keep quality teachers from taking their talents to other states.
- Require accountability and transparency in the private school voucher program and from charter schools. Millions in taxpayer dollars are being spent on the state’s new “opportunity scholarships” without any requirement to show that they are helping educate North Carolina’s children. Private schools and charter schools should be required to disclose business operation details, hire fully qualified classroom personnel, reveal salaries of faculty and administrators and release student performance data. Taxpayers deserve nothing less.
- Press for universal state-funded pre-kindergarten education so all children are ready to learn when they enter school.
Mark Johnson has a chance to show he's more than another young ambitious politician looking to the next campaign and higher office. He can show that he is committed to the job he's been elected to by focusing on common sense solutions and avoiding the seductive allure of partisan political pandering.
It’s simple, but not easy. The reward will be the public schools North Carolina needs to fulfill the constitutional guarantee of a sound basic education for every child.