North Carolina State Board of Education members, meeting in Raleigh this week, chose to ignore growing concerns regarding academic progress in the state’s public school system and instead spent hours arguing over proposed changes in the state’s social studies curriculum focused on liberal, social justice issues. Metaphorically speaking, they busied themselves rearranging the deck chairs on a disabled and sinking vessel.
The crippled vessel in this image is the statewide public school system that has been brought practically to a standstill for the last nine months, with most students either partially or fully restricted from attending in-person classes due to fear of spreading the Covid-19 virus.
Nationwide, state school systems are making note of the decline in subject retention and academic achievement resulting from the disruption caused by the virus pandemic.
Two states have been very public about the academic declines. Texas and Maryland have reported upwards to a 25 per cent increase in failure rates attributed to the disruption in classroom participation.
In contrast to these and other states that have disclosed data on statewide academic achievements, North Carolina education leaders proved last week that they are not interested in this issue. In fact, there is no indication that the state’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) or the State Board of Education have attempted to aggregate information from local school boards for the public’s consideration.
Some N.C. school systems have been very transparent, such as the Wilson County school system which released data in early December showing that 46% of the students in grades three through twelve who participated in virtual learning have failed at least one class. Attempts to gain similar information from the Carteret County school system have not been successful. This should be a concern for all the county public school parents and taxpayers.
Information about academic achievement is a public issue and disclosure of this data should be shared regularly within the respective school districts and should be aggregated statewide by the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. Armed with this data, the state board and DPI can then develop programs, to include funding, for remediation services for students as they matriculate to the next grade level. But the state board has not found it necessary to pursue this course of action.
Rather than address the most pressing issue for parents, students and teachers statewide, as to when students will return to the classroom or what can be done to remediate the obvious reduction in academic achievement, the Board of Education argued for hours about instituting new social studies standards. The dispute centered around phrases such as “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and a directive to “compare competing narratives of the historical development of the U.S. and North Carolina in terms of how each depicts race, women, tribes, identity, ability and religious groups.”
These terms and directives are part of a study to redesign the state’s social studies curriculum that started two years ago and is now coming to a final vote by the board of education for implementation beginning next fall. Republican members of the board, including Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, argued against accepting these changes. A final vote is expected at the board’s next meeting in February.
It is ironic that the state school board was so focused on “systemic” issues of race, sex and gender that it totally ignored the “systemic” loss of educational services and the resulting “systemic” failure to teach the state’s future leaders and labor force.
Immediate action is necessary by the N.C. General Assembly. Legislators must step in and demand both transparency of the data that belongs to the taxpayers and demand better leadership for our state’s education system. Otherwise there will be even greater “systemic” failures with students ill-prepared for the future.