State legislators are correctly targeting education as a major issue for the agenda in the General Assembly’s up-coming long session which begins in January. Although the state’s economy is a major concern, the education issue demands immediate attention, not only from legislators but from local school boards, parents and above all, teachers.
N.C. Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico County, told a group of local newspaper publishers shortly after the November elections that his number one concern for the upcoming legislative year would be education. He acknowledged that the state’s economy is a major concern but he said that will be faster to correct than will the loss of the current academic year for the hundreds of thousands of school age children, particularly children in low income circumstances, who he contends have been poorly served for this academic year.
Deputy State Superintendent David Stegall confirmed Sen. Sanderson’s concerns Tuesday, telling the state’s Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee that, “There are going be learning gaps that are going to take years to recover from, without a doubt. As a parent, as an educator, it’s obvious.”
Oversight committee co-chair, N.C. Rep. Craig Horne, R- Union County, described this school year, which is only half over, as a “wasted year” stating that this (academic year) “has been a disaster.”
Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press wrote recently that the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a not-for-profit educational global organization that conducts student assessments, concluded that elementary and middle school students have fallen measurably behind in math. The story noted that NWAE questioned the overall value of the assessment because “a disproportionately large number of poor and minority students were not in schools for assessments in the fall.”
A September 16 News-Times editorial expressed concern about a state report that detailed a decline in SAT scores, which we attributed to disruption of the 2020 spring semester caused by classroom closures due to the pandemic. That editorial noted then that legislators, educators and parents should be concerned and that steps needed to be taken to quantify, as best possible, current levels of academic and then begin a structure for remediation.
The continued disruption students and teachers are dealing with this year only exacerbates the problems first identified at the beginning of the school year.
We appreciate the legislature’s focus on this issue but the most important players in this discussion have been, and remain, silent – teachers, particularly the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) which “supposedly” represents the teachers statewide and continues, somewhat disingenuously, to express equal concern for students as well. If either one or both of those statements are true, we await a reaction from the NCAE.
The decline in student academic abilities as noted by the deputy superintendent will only compound the problems for teachers as students matriculate to the next grade level. And in the case of students heading off to post high-school education, those institutions and their teachers will be receiving students ill prepared for that next level of academic rigor.
This lack of preparation and compounding effect was noted in Thompson’s AP story. “The NWEA findings show that, compared to last year, students scored an average of 5 to 10 percentile points lower in math, with students in grades three, four and five experiencing the largest drops. English language arts were largely the same as last year.”
The AP article goes on to quote NWEA Chief Executive Chris Minnich expressing concern about the sequential nature of math, where skills carry over into the next year. “The challenge around mathematics is acute….it’s something we’re going to be dealing with even after we get back in school,” he noted.
As has been noted in previous News-Times editorials, the need for this issue to be assessed and remediation to begin is critical. Any time wasted, and much has been, results in wasted lives and economic opportunities. The impacts of the “wasted year” as Rep. Horne calls it will not be fully understood for years. And by then it will be too late to fix either the individual or the social, cultural and economic impacts.
North Carolina is not alone in this academic crisis. It is being played out across the nation. But regardless of its breadth, it remains a state and local problem - one that needs immediate attention at every level by elected officials, school administrators, parents and teachers.