State Superintendent Mark Johnson has unveiled a bold vision for the future of education in North Carolina, but the announcement was light on concrete details about how the plan would be realized.
Lawmakers, school and district leaders, education advocates, and some educators attended the Feb. 19 Innovation and Leadership program at the Raleigh Convention Center. The invitation-only event provided the setting as Johnson unveiled a new education initiative: #NC2030.
The stated initiative of #NC2030, part of Johnson’s 2019 legislative agenda, is making North Carolina the best place for early-career educators to begin, learn, and teach by 2030.
“This is a goal that can unify us,” Johnson said.
During a dinner to announce the plan, Johnson talked about afflictions ailing the state’s education system. Just 39 percent of North Carolina’s fourth-graders are grade-level proficient in reading.
That’s slightly better than the national average, Johnson said, but improvements are needed. Read to Achieve, the state’s reading program enacted during the 2013-14 school year, has failed to produce satisfactory gains. Johnson said the program should focus less on assessments and more on providing teachers needed resources.
The teaching profession, Johnson said, needs continuous improvements and more investments in professional development and support for beginning teachers. The legislature has made strides to make teacher pay more competitive, Johnson said, but more needs to be done to make teaching a profession people want to join.
“Unfortunately, right now throughout the state we have parents telling students, ‘Don’t go be a teacher,’” Johnson said. “We need to reclaim the image of what teaching is.”
The state superintendent said #NC2030 is an ambitious goal, but it’s achievable.
Terry Stoops is vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. He said #NC2030 contains conventional mainstream reforms, but that doesn’t mean it won’t cost a lot to enact.
“It sounds expensive and would require tax increases to implement fully,” Stoops said.
Stoops said the proposal relies heavily on extra spending and is less focused on student outcomes. It’s also geared toward actions by the General Assembly or the State Board of Education, instead of changes the state superintendent alone could make.
How Johnson intends the state to reach the #NC2030 goals is outlined in his 2019 legislative agenda. Some, including Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, remain unsure of the details.
While the event was a nice opportunity to hear about the positive aspects of education in North Carolina, Horn said, the announcement contained few new ideas and offered scant details on ways to achieve the goals.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know what else to say as far as those are laudable goals, but what is the plan?” Horn said.
The Republican lawmaker said the affair reminds him of the old “Where’s the beef?” hamburger ad campaign.
“I need to know as an appropriations guy what the plan is,” Horn said. “Where does he suggest we get the money?”
Teacher pay raises are among the details of #NC2030. Johnson recommended providing all teachers with a salary increase of at least 5 percent.
That won’t come cheap, Horn said.
“A 1 percent salary increase is $62 million,” Horn said. “Now, $62 million times five is $310 million in recurring money.”
Over the past few years teachers have received a range of pay raises, with legislators approving an average 6.5 percent pay raise for the 2018-19 school year.
Last year the average teacher salary was $51,214, but Johnson anticipates it would reach nearly $54,000 this year.
Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said Johnson’s #NC2030 plan contains ideas with bipartisan support, but he doesn’t think the plan goes far enough. While he backs raising teacher pay, Meyer worries veteran teachers are left out of the discussion.
“We have a revenue challenge in North Carolina,” he said. He said tax cuts over the past few years have failed to leave money for popular projects involving schools and infrastructure.
Johnson’s public-private teacher appreciation campaign, TeachNC.org, doesn’t impress Meyer. The website is supposed to launch in spring and aims to encourage more people to choose education as a career.
“I think the website is window dressing for a fundamental problem we have with the teacher pipeline,” Meyer said. “We can try and convince people to go into teaching, but if we’re not supporting teachers and we’re not providing good working conditions in schools, then it’s never going to overcome the dissatisfaction among rank-and-file educators right now.”
Meyer said he plans to continue working with the state superintendent to ensure teachers have additional time for professional development and more time to work with students who are struggling the most.