North Carolina voters are dissatisfied with the state’s education leaders, from Raleigh to the local school board, according to a recent poll. This loss of faith in the leadership of the state’s public education system may result in less control of a monolithic industry by a select few and open the door to more educational choices.
A January survey of likely voters by the Civitas Poll, now a part of the John Locke Foundation, shows a growing frustration with how state and local education leaders have handled the education of students in the public school system, both with restrictions initiated by the governor and now because of curriculum changes promoting social justice issues and not education
When asked about school operations, only 39% of those polled supported Governor Cooper’s executive orders that restrict public schools to use either hybrid or remote classroom instruction while 46% expressed dissatisfaction. But diving deeper into the poll data, the disapproval of the governor’s leadership was strongest among Hispanics with 56% expressing dissatisfaction with his restrictive orders.
Donald Bryson, foundation president, noted that although Gov. Cooper has enjoyed high approval ratings during the first four years of his administration the polling data shows, “voters are running out of patience with his handling of reopening schools.”
Local school boards did not avoid public criticism in the polling data with 45% of those surveyed expressing either somewhat or strong disapproval of the local leaders as well. Approval rating for local school boards came in five points lower at 34% as compared with the governor’s approval rating.
The N.C. Senate is expected to take up a bill this week that will settle the dispute about classroom participation by requiring schools to re-open for in-person classes. But that will only exacerbate an already bad situation. There are so many players in the debate that any effort to strong arm a solution will only divide the parents, teachers, school board members and even the public writ large.
As we have opined in previous editorials there is a need to re-think education. The concept is not new but it has taken an international calamity to bring this subject to the table for serious consideration. But legislature and educational leaders continue to ignore the need for change and corrective action.
There is no question that students learn best in the three-dimensional environment provided in a classroom setting with a teacher leading the class. But one size does not fit all as the current public school system currently promotes.
Yes, there are teachers that want to return to the classroom and they should. Likewise, there are very willing students and supportive parent wanting the same result. But what about those teachers and students who are resistant to returning to the classroom because of sincere concerns of becoming ill with the Covid-19? That’s a real possibility and these concerns should be addressed and accommodated as well.
And, as we’ve noted, the return to a classroom environment will not make up for the “lost year” as educational leaders are now describing the closure of classes during the spring semester last school year and the closure of the fall semester this year. Academic proficiencies have declined and it will take at minimum a full semester, if not longer, to get students back to grade level.
Lindalyn Kakadelis, Executive Director of the N.C. Coalition for Public Charter Schools, notes that students have been and are falling behind with “over 40% of 3rd-8th graders NOT grade level proficient…and 59% are not career and college ready in math.”
Compounding the problems of leadership is a pending decision, to be made this week by the State Board of Education, changing the state’s social studies curriculum to be more inclusive about social issues; a plan that has upset conservatives on the board. Of particular concern are topics 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.”
The continuing disruption of the public school environment due to fears of the pandemic, along with the dissatisfaction of academic growth and now unnecessary curriculum changes, is further frustrating parents, teachers and students. The alternative to these top-down decisions which will only deepen current dissatisfaction is to promote and incentivize school choice.
Regardless of what decisions are made by the legislature and the State Board of Education, parents, teachers and students are already making their own decisions and it will mean a declining support for a system that is in need of immediate re-design. School choice is fast becoming the best alternative to a system that is rudderless and badly off-course.