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Teachers do tough job, need help

State Rep. Charles Jeter offers an example to other lawmakers – and maybe even a judge. The Republican legislator from Mecklenburg County stood in a teacher’s shoes for a day on Thursday, and found the experience humbling.

Jeter volunteered in a fourth grade classroom at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Stoney Creek Elementary School. He didn’t just spend the hour or two that politicos typically give such efforts. He spent the whole day – actually working. After a busy day of helping one student after another with math and other work, Jeter acknowledged what most who aren’t teachers fail to appreciate. “I didn’t realize how difficult it really is until today,” he said afterwards. “We haven’t stopped. There’s no five-minute breaks... It’s those little conveniences of life you forget that teachers go without.”

We hope Jeter will share this experience with his fellow N.C. lawmakers during the short legislative session that begins next week. Their past actions – eliminating teacher assistants, increasing class sizes, mandating unnecessary tests, paying too many near-poverty wages – have made teachers’ jobs harder.

Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning might benefit from spending a day working in a classroom too. He might not be so quick to dismiss the need for additional resources for educators to effectively carry out the N.C. Constitution’s mandate of providing all children “a sound basic education.”

This week Manning, who has been overseeing the state’s compliance with rulings in a school equity case, issued a stinging report noting that “way too many thousands of (N.C.) school children” have not received an adequate education. He based the 38-page report on hearings and reading test scores through 2013.

Manning’s report came in the same week that lawyers for the low-income districts that filed that equity lawsuit charged in new court filings that the state has abandoned many of the remedies that were planned to address the problem.

Both the plaintiffs and Manning are right to focus a spotlight on these failings again. The most vulnerable of North Carolina’s students are not getting what they need to achieve. The status quo is unacceptable and must not stand.

Yet Manning pointed a finger solely at educators for the problem. That fails to acknowledge the situation many public school teachers and administrators find themselves in as they are asked to do more with less. The Read to Achieve state initiative is one example.

The law had the admirable intent of ensuring students are reading proficiently by third grade. But the program focuses on testing, not on resources and strategies to help struggling readers achieve success. Help – in the form of mandated summer reading camps – comes only after they’ve failed.

Testing is not teaching. Testing is one tool to spot where help is needed. But a test is not a magic elixir. Educators must do the work of deciphering that data and using it to help each child learn. That requires time and resources – something lawmakers have robbed educators of by cutting teacher assistants, textbook money and training.

Jeter’s time in Stoney Creek gave him an idea of what that has meant. Imagine what educators face in the low-wealth districts that sued the state over inequities.

N.C. schools are failing too many kids. Lawmakers must provide adequate resources to give educators a better chance at success.

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