Last Thursday, the 120 House and 50 Senate members of the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned for the year, leaving much undone. While the General Assembly ratified a passel of laws, none is likely to usher in meaningful reform for North Carolina’s public schools. That will have to wait until the next session convenes in nine months, in May 2008.
In the interim, the State Board of Education (SBE) is unlikely to make waves. Appointed by the governor to serve eight-year terms, State Board members are political creatures with a “go along to get along” mentality that results in a staggering lack of ingenuity and innovation. John Locke Foundation policy analyst, Terry Stoops, notes that over the last four years, roughly 94 percent of the motions brought to a final vote by the SBE were unanimous decisions.
Clearly, then, the imperative for change rests on the able shoulders of citizen activists like you and me. To that end, there’s a lot we can do over the next nine months to lay the political groundwork for legislative change in 2008. Here are three issues demanding our attention.
First, if we’re serious about putting more and better teachers in the classroom, we must transform the current teacher certification and licensing system. Currently, the State Board of Education perpetuates what can only be described as a lateral entry boondoggle, choking out any alternative certification programs that threaten the current university lock on certification dollars. Community colleges prepared to offer affordable lateral entry programs to mid-career professionals have been sidelined by the SBE in its zeal to protect the interests of the university system. Meanwhile, school systems around the state are clamoring for the flexibility to hire qualified teachers who refuse to jump through the SBE’s hoops.
Second, citizens and parents need to push for a new student achievement test. Current law mandates that every school in North Carolina participate in the state testing program. But state tests are an accountability sham, inflating performance and disguising real academic shortcomings. Home to its own testing company, the Department of Public Instruction is clearly unable to provide objective, impartial feedback on student performance. It’s time for North Carolina to outsource testing to a nationally recognized company.
Third and finally, citizens must push for removal of the charter school cap. Last week the your representative’s position on education issues. Build relationships with those who represent you, and hold them accountable. Be prepared to speak out and stand firm. Dare to push back against what Martin Luther King Jr. termed the “appalling silence of the good people.” Our children are depending on it.