K-12 education in N.C. and the elections


Photo taken from Civitas Institute

Education in the United States is one of the biggest issues that is discussed very little when it comes to this election cycle.  This is especially true for primary education, considering that the presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, had been discussing mostly college education and student debt.

 Clinton and Trump both have very different ideas of how to fix education in America. First, Clinton believes that testing based on core curriculum has value.

“It’s very painful, because the Common Core started off as a nonpartisan effort–it wasn’t politicized. Iowa has had a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time. And [Iowans] see the value of it, they understand why that helps organize their whole education system. And a lot of states, unfortunately, haven’t had that, and so don’t understand the value of a core. In this sense, a Common Core,”said Clinton. She is also for raising teacher salaries and schools that emphasize self-discipline and respect, not just test scores. 

Trump, in his book Crippled America, wrote that the Department of Education should “just be eliminated” as well as the Common Core. “I am totally against these programs and the Department of Education. It’s a disaster. We cannot continue to fail our children–the very future of this nation,” said Trump.

When it comes to the education in North Carolina, several major problems pop up, including school testing, teacher pay and even state funding of education.

Phyllis Pegram, a principal at Conover School in Conover, North Carolina, said the problem in secondary education is the emphasis put on test results that measure, not just student knowledge, but school performance.

“I definitely feel like teachers having to teach to the test holds them back,” said Pegram. “For example, cursive writing is no longer taught in any curriculum, but who wants a college graduate that can’t read a letter in cursive? But sometimes, things like that fall to the wayside because you have to teach to the test and students are not tested on that.”

Former teacher, Rhonda Lail, believes kids are being tested too early.

“I taught the third grade and those kids were scared to death of that test. Some kids get so nervous that they think they are going to throw up. It is sad that they are made to feel that way. Unfortunately, that is because that third grade test is so crucial,” said Lail.

A.C Yount, another former teacher from Conover, agrees.

“I think there are so many regulations put on teachers nowadays where the teachers are being held back with all the testing they have to do and the kids are not having enough time to learn at their full potential,” said Yount.

Fortunately, late last year President Obama signed into law the “Every Child Succeeds Act” which mostly replaced the “No Child Left Behind Act.” States still have to test students, but will now have flexibility in how and when they administer those tests. An example would be that schools can break a single annual assessment into a series of smaller tests. Still, this brings up the issue that school teachers have to teach to the test.

“In the United States, I do not believe that we prioritize education as much as we should. The states take away raises, longevity pay and basically everything that they can from teachers. We pay football players millions of dollars more than we do a teacher. It is not a priority for us. If you look at China, they are so strict when it comes to their schools. There needs to be more rigor put into it,” said Pegram. 

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a state budget in July that would raise teacher pay to $50,000 a year. McCrory also put in tax cuts that he said will save the middle class $132 million, tuition reductions at three North Carolina universities and investments in mental health and substance abuse programs.

“McCrory has been in office for four years and, until it was time for him to get reelected, he didn’t do anything about it,” said Pegram. “Bev Perdue, who was the Governor before McCrory, did not do anything either. She used to be a teacher, so I thought she would have done more for teachers but she didn’t do anything. It was awful.”

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper also believes that raising teacher pay is extremely important. Cooper says that when he was in the legislature, he worked with Gov. Jim Hunt to bring North Carolina’s average teacher pay higher than the national average. “We had our teacher salaries above the national average,” he said. “And the reason we did that was leadership. We had a vision of where we wanted to go, and we prioritized teacher pay.”

Another huge problem in the North Carolina education system is school funding. According to the provide info on the organization N.C. Policy Watch, per pupil funding levels has fallen to $7,235 — the fourth lowest in the country.

“Funding in North Carolina is more of a problem than Common Core or End of Grade Testing,” says Chena Flood, the Director of the Office of Field Experiences in the college of Education and Allied Professions at Western Carolina University. “When you go back east where I am from you go to rural poor counties where they are struggling. They don’t even have supplies. It is the same way with a lot of schools around this area. A lot of teachers around here will tell you that they don’t have enough money for supplies. They spend a lot of their own money to get supplies for their students.”

 McCrory does not seem to be planning to do too much about this issue. School officials say that a late August memo from Gov. McCrory’s chief budget officer signals that all state departments, including the public schools, must soon present options for a 2 percent cut in their 2017-2019 budget, roughly a $173 million loss for North Carolina schools according to N.C. Policy Watch, a North Carolina public policy site co-founded by Fitzimon and the AJ Fletcher Foundation.

Cooper says under his education plan that he will “support low performing schools by maximizing federal dollars to help transform and turn around the bottom five percent of our schools and look for opportunities to support proven interventions customized to the unique needs of these schools and their students.”

While there are many problems that arise when it comes to education in North Carolina as well as the entire country the only thing that we can do as U.S. citizens is to go out and vote for the person at each position that we think can actually make a change for the better to our education system. Election day is Nov. 8. Go out and vote.