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Lawmakers, listen: People say education deserves better

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  • Editor's note

    As part of the Observer's recent redesign, Monday's half-page of Viewpoint has been incorporated into one Opinion page. Other days of the week are unchanged.



N.C. lawmakers haven’t listened much to educators as they’ve crafted poorly thought out changes affecting public schools and teachers. Maybe they’ll pay attention to what some parents and other N.C. residents are saying.

They should. In a survey of more than 2,350 N.C. residents released Friday, two UNC Wilmington professors – Robert Smith and Scott Imig – found a lot of dissatisfaction with the moves legislators made during the General Assembly session last year. More pointedly, respondents overwhelmingly disapprove of the direction public education is headed in the state. More than 94 percent said North Carolina was headed in the wrong direction on education. A sample of the comments: “These laws will not improve N.C. public education, but destroy it.” “We have two children enrolled in public schools now, and have witnessed firsthand the exodus of quality teachers and the swelling of class sizes... we will be paying attention to candidates’ attitudes, statements, and actions... and will vote accordingly.”

Participants who responded to the online survey took issue with a number of legislative initiatives, including the Read to Achieve program that was a factor in the State Board of Education’s decision last week to lower passing scores for state tests. The change will potentially save thousands of third-graders from having to go to summer reading camps under the program. Proponents said the law would ensure that students could read by third grade, a crucial factor in academic success later on.

But opponents said it was an unfunded, ill-defined mandate. More than 54 percent of survey respondents rejected it. One respondent noted that it “sounds nice but ... places way too much stress on the teacher and child to earn a score or be doomed.”

Respondents were particularly dissatisfied with legislators’ action on teacher pay, teacher tenure, master’s degree changes, vouchers and rewarding only 25 percent of the state’s teachers. Lawmakers gave teachers no salary bump last year, the fourth time in five years teachers got no pay increase. More than 94 percent of survey respondents said raising teacher pay should be lawmakers’ top priority. More than 78 percent disagreed with lawmakers’ decision to eliminate teacher tenure. Ninety-six percent think teachers should get extra pay for earning a master’s degree; lawmakers eliminated that. More than 85 percent disagreed with the state providing vouchers for families to attend private schools; 76 percent disapproved of giving annual pay raises to just 25 percent of N.C. teachers, designated as the top teachers.

On the last issue, respondents noted: “A measly $500 performance bonus [per year for four years] is a shame and not reflective of their time or worth.” “What if we only valued 25 percent of the students in a classroom?...Would we expect any positive results?”

Well said. Are you listening, N.C. lawmakers? It’s past time to do so.

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