This past Friday an op-ed appeared in the Charlotte Observer that attempted to paint the assault on public education by the current North Carolina General Assembly as “common sense reforms to give parents more choices, particularly low-income parents and those in underserved communities.” It can be found here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/article215972175.html.
It is worth the read just to see how a glossy explanation that pretends to be non-partisan does a bad job of trying to offer a political spin on the last six years of “reform.” In fact, there is only one correct item even offered in this op-ed: “Education must be a non-partisan issue.”
She’s right on that one point. But this current GOP establishment is so different from the champions of public education who governed with an “R” next to their name from years ago. And to say that democrats have been blameless in the past is ludicrous, but if one is going to justify today’s actions with yesterday’s mistakes then one should not be making claims about how to move forward.
Back to that op-ed.
For someone trying to frame the education issue as a fantastic crusade to save the children of North Carolina on the part of the current GOP establishment when it is in total opposite to reality and then blaming others for pushing back on it might be one of the most pathetic attempts at political spin in this election cycle.
In fact, it is nothing but partisan on her part and needs to be called out.
“Democrats focus on pushing their autocratic and nationalized education agenda that moves decisions about a child’s education further away from parents and local educators who know the needs of the student best. ”
That’s actually funny because on May 16th, about 20,00 of those local educators “who know the needs of the students best” marched in Raleigh to tell the current GOP that what the GOP has done in the past six years is not good for students.
“Republicans in North Carolina’s General Assembly are developing policies like school vouchers, school choice and innovative lab-type schools that will shift the power of decision-making back to parents instead of leaving it in the control of bureaucrats. These innovative solutions focus on the needs of the students to ensure that our children are prepared to enter higher education or the workforce of the future.”
She must be referring to the Opportunity Grants and charter schools. Maybe it would be nice if she read the Duke University study released last year which was a rather damning report on the Opportunity Grants in NC. It’s here: https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.
It would be nice if she could refute or explain the following excerpted observations:
Approximately 93% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools (3).
Based on limited and early data, more than half the students using vouchers are performing below average on nationally-standardized reading, language, and math tests. In contrast, similar public school students in NC are scoring above the national average (3).
The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so (3).
Previous research on North Carolina private schools in general showed that more than 30% of private schools in North Carolina are highly segregated (more than 90% of students of one race) and 80% enroll more than half of the same race.10 Without data on racial enrollments in voucher schools, it is not clear whether vouchers contribute to school segregation. Because of the overall data on private schools, however, the voucher program may well be contributing to increasing school segregation (7).
Of the participating schools, less than 20% were secular schools; more than 80% were religious schools. This does not line up exactly with the percentages of vouchers used at religious schools versus secular schools (93% at religious schools), because several religious schools enrolled large numbers of students (8).
The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students (8).
Although it is not an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the most recent data shows that comparable students who remained in public schools are scoring better than the voucher students on national tests (12).
In comparison to most other states, North Carolina’s general system of oversight of private schools is weak. North Carolina’s limited oversight reflects a policy decision to leave the quality control function primarily to individual families. Under North Carolina law, private schools are permitted to make their own decisions regarding curriculum, graduation requirements, teacher qualifications, number of hours/days of operation, and, for the most part, testing. No accreditation is required of private schools (13).
Unlike some laws, the law creating the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Program does not set out its purpose (15).
In fact, there is no requirement that the participating private schools meet any threshold of academic quality. Thus, to the extent that the program was established to provide options for better academic outcomes for children, nothing in the program’s design assures or even promotes that outcome (15-16).
THE LEGISLATIVE DECISION TO EXEMPT VOUCHER STUDENTS FROM PARTICIPATING IN THE STANDARD STATE END-OF-GRADE TESTS MEANS THAT NO RESEARCHER WILL EVER BE ABLE TO MAKE AN “APPLES-TO-APPLES” COMPARISON BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND VOUCHER STUDENTS (18).
The North Carolina program allows for participation in the program by children who are not in failing schools and by private schools that do not offer a more academically promising education (19).
Then maybe she could explain that recent NC State University study that pretty much said that the voucher program really can’t be measured.
And charter schools? She needs to show empirical research on that one.
Then she makes a laundry list of really bad claims:
- Did you know that the budget for the upcoming fiscal year increases public education funding again with an additional $700 million?
- Teachers will receive an average 6.5 percent raise for the upcoming school year on top of the 15 percent increase over the past four years.
- Principals will receive an average 6.9 percent pay increase.
- $35 million has been allocated to keep students safe in NC Public Schools, and $241 million in lottery funds are allocated to build or upgrade school facilities.
But she fails to realize that the increase in budget still does raise the per pupil expenditure average.
She fails to tell you there is a difference between average raise and actual raise across the profession. Ask a veteran teacher. Maybe she could explain this:
She fails to tell you that the principal pay plan is really based on test scores and actually hurts a lot of already successful principals.
She fails to tell you that $35 million dollars is a drop in the bucket when it comes to helping keeping schools totally safe.
She fails to tell you that many parents she claims to speak for wanted a $1.9 billion dollar school bond for construction which is a lot more than $241 million.
And that idea of getting “a voucher for $9,172 per child per year and choose the school your child would attend” because that is what is spent on each student? Well, she just took a figure from the John Locke Foundation (https://www.johnlocke.org/policy-position/education-spending/) and failed to realize a few things. One, that figure is not what the state spends on each student. That is a figure that includes the local and federal dollars. It would be interesting to see how she could frame an argument to the feds about how money could be parceled out to each family that came from Washington. Second, it shows an absolute ignorance to how schools are funded. It’s a little more complicated than that. There have been schools that have been threatened or even shut down because too many students were drawn away from them.
What she ultimately fails to acknowledge is that there have been so many actions that this current regime has enacted to weaken the appearance of public schools. When she can explain how the following (and it’s an incomplete list) has been good for the state then maybe she would reconsider her words:
- Removal of due-process rights and career status
- Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
- Amorphous Evaluation Protocols
- Less Money Spent per Pupil
- Remove Caps on Class Sizes
- Jeb Bush School Grading System
- Cutting Teacher Assistants
- Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
- Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.
But maybe she should really explain how her idea in the age of the Leandro decision actually adheres to Article IX of the NC State Constitution.