Editorial - Education overhaul needs a comprehensive plan, not a hastily approved bill, Star News (06.02.2012)
Putting a shiny label on a piece of legislation doesn’t guarantee that its contents are as advertised. Before the Honorables vote to make dramatic changes to our public schools, the politically named “Excellent Public Schools Act” needs thorough scrutiny and a lot of input from the people who would be most affected.
Although some of the proposals have merit, this bill was crafted without input from the people who matter most in education: students, parents, teachers and the people who have the task of administering the schools and showing progress. Many of the allegedly new approaches have been tried before or are already in place in some form.
Others are aimed at making it easier to fire teachers or involve setting arbitrary rules, some of which fail to take into account the diversity and learning disparities in our students. The rules do nothing to discourage the deliberate racial and socioeconomic resegregation that is occurring in many school systems and, which studies have repeatedly shown, makes it more likely that those schools will be labeled as failures.
Predictably, the state Senate was in a rush to ram through the bill and the vote on the second reading was along party lines. However, its sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has pledged to slow down the process to allow for adequate public input. He and state House leaders should make sure that happens. The changes being proposed are significant and deserve a thorough vetting.
Senate Bill 795 puts renewed – and commendable – emphasis on K-3 achievement, adds money for preschool slots (after last year’s budget cut money for those programs) and would establish some summer enrichment programs for third-graders. It also would implement merit pay and renewable contracts for teachers.
Teachers groups are understandably worried about eliminating tenure – and have a good point that a new state law making it easier to fire bad teachers deserves a chance to prove its effectiveness. The contract provision could work, if adequate safeguards are built into the process. There should be no loopholes allowing for arbitrary or politically/ideologically motivated dismissal of any teacher.
There may be many points in this bill that are worthy of trying. There surely are some that are not. Before any major overhaul takes place, the public needs more information and more time to consider possible unintended consequences. Parents, students, teachers, administrators and teacher education professionals need to be involved as partners, not merely the recipients of any edicts handed down from on high.
The state’s public schools have much room for improvement, but they also have shown considerable improvements in achievement and graduation rates over the past several decades. That progress was no accident. It was the result of a concerted effort that involved governors, policymakers, educators, parent groups and the business community. North Carolina must not throw out its successes in pursuit of a repackaged quick fix that may end up hurting rather than helping students. That will require a comprehensive plan, not a hastily approved bill, and cooperation from all who have a stake in our children’s education.
Take the time to get it right. Our children will pay too great a price if we get it wrong.