North Carolina legislators, responding to the disruption of education resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic that closed classrooms and forced students to a remote learning environment for a year-and-half, are taking advantage of a renewed interest in education and are trying to reimagine how it can be best provided. But based on a recent meeting in Morehead City these efforts may only end up recycling an educational system that is in desperate need of re-invention.
The N.C. House of Representatives Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina’s Future, meeting at Morehead City Primary auditorium last week, conducted the fourth and final public hearing scheduled outside of Raleigh. Ostensibly the purpose of the meeting was to learn about the county’s school system and accept public comments. Because the program lacked any major publicity only about 80 people, mostly educators, attended. The result was a paucity of public input.
According to EdNC, an independent educational news outlet, Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, the senior chairman of the committee, described its purpose is to imagine and create an education system as if one did not already exist.
The committee’s official focus involves examining requirement of the standard course of study; reviewing the outcomes of those standards and the associated means for measuring the outcome; funding and partnerships that might enhance the educational outcomes; and any other issues deemed relevant by the committee.
Since these standards already exist, it is obvious that the committee is more focused on noodling around with existing standards than creating a new system with new standards.
The Morehead City program began with a joint presentation by Carteret County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson and Carteret Community College President Dr. Traci Mancini. Dr. Jackson presented a power point showing how the county’s 20 public schools have worked with a variety of institutions to include the Community College to enhance the educational experience for students.
In his presentation he proudly noted that the county’s schools have consistently ranked among the best in the state, including national accolades. He noted that in 2020-2021 academic year every school in the county met or exceeded academic growth criteria set by the state.
Dr. Mancini echoed the superintendent’s remarks noting the close relationship the college has with the county schools to accommodate both college credits as well as technical training.
Dr. Jackson and Dr. Mancini pointed to a close relationship with local businesses to help develop career and technical training that help fill the needs of the local economy. Harvey Case, Carteret Health Care President, told the committee that the county’s hospital is partnering with both the county’s public schools and the community college to recruit students for healthcare and medical fields.
Following the first hour of presentations, the public was invited to comment and make recommendations to the committee, but because of the lack of non-education participants in attendance the comments were few and not overly focused.
Had the legislative committee promoted the event, aggressively seeking public participation and input, it would have learned a great deal more about the challenges students, teachers and parents faced as they attempted to leverage computer learning in remote environments.
The disruption and closure of classroom teaching due to forced quarantines to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic was a challenge to all participants. Except for a very few, these challenges have resulted in poor academic progress for students at every grade level as has been documented in a variety of end-of-year test scores.
The academic damage is such that remediation is required at every grade level and particularly for those students who have since graduated. The problem is that assessing the remedial needs is not at all refined and only through time and experience will the needs be fully understood.
But the lack of parent-student involvement was not the only shortcoming in the committee’s hearing. Also missing were representatives of alternative schools such as private schools, home school participants and most glaringly charter schools.
The failure to include the Tiller Charter School, the county’s sole public charter school, is quizzical considering the fact that it is a ‘public’ charter school and had a stellar academic year despite the Covid-19 quarantines.
The K-5 charter school reported in November last year that the End of Grade (EOG) testing for their students in grades 3-5 consistently earned the highest scores in all EOG tested subject in comparison to students in the same grades in the Carteret and Craven County public school systems. This record is worth examining to understand what that school, its teachers and students, did to overcome the academic hurdles created by the pandemic and quarantines.
The failure to invite the Tiller School is also puzzling since the Republican legislative leadership has aggressively promoted the expansion of public charter schools in addition to Opportunity Scholarships which provide financial assistance to low income families for alternative educational options.
There is no question that the reports and presentations provided about the county’s public schools are worthy of note. But, if Rep. Torbett’s committee is sincerely interested in re-imagining and reinventing education then they need to consider alternatives to the standard structures, something that did not happen at the Morehead City Primary auditorium meeting.
Next week, May 9, the committee is scheduled to hold its final meeting in Raleigh and then to prepare a report. Unless there have been communications provided at other meetings that are out of the normal routine of educational presentations, the result will most likely be more of the same.
The disruption of our educational system due to the pandemic should have taught both legislators and education administrators that there are inherent flaws in our system that do not provide quick and successful alternatives. Further, there is a need to step back and determine how education can be enhanced using technology in a way that has yet to be imagined, something the Select Committee should address.