The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: Legislative Action At Odds With Public's Wishes

 

September 18, 2017



Two education reports about education ended up in my inbox this week side by side. The first was a report on the results of the 49th PDK/Gallup Poll, a well well-respected national survey offering key insights into public opinion of important educational issues. Every year since 1969 Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa, a professional association for educators, has conducted the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools (which can be found at pdkpoll.org).

The second report was a weekly summary of North Carolina’s Friday Forum, and the weekly version of the Friday Report from the Friday Forum on North Carolina, offering news about recent N.C. legislative action regarding our public schools. The mission of the Friday Report is to provide “trusted, nonpartisan, evidence-based research and policy analysis” about education in our state (www.ncforum.org).

It was interesting to compare the two reports and to read the discrepancy between what the public says it wants and the policies and resources our North Carolina legislators are enacting. I understand that I am comparing policy decisions from the state level with national public opinion, but I think that North Carolina citizens are not that different from the country as a whole in their thoughts about public education.

Two important educational themes identified in the PDK Poll were the public’s belief that “Academic achievement isn’t the only mission of our schools” and the public’s concerns about “measuring school quality.” The public surveyed offered little support for standardized testing which is in contrast to the deep interest in testing by policy makers over the last two decades. Less than half of adults (42 percent) say performance on standardized tests is a highly important indicator of school quality. Eighty-two percent say that it is highly important for schools to help students develop interpersonal skills, such as being cooperative, respectful of others and persistent at solving problems. Basically, citizens want our schools to be accountable, but they want this accountability to encompass more than high-stakes tests on academic subjects.

In contrast, policy makers have had deep interest in high-stakes testing in academic subjects over the last two decades. However, with the passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, state educators have had the opportunity and flexibility to reduce the focus placed on using these standardized tests. Unfortunately, the new bill House Bill 770, passed by the legislators in April 2017, will continue to evaluate our students and schools progress almost entirely on high-stakes multiple-choice standardized tests.

Many critics of the N.C. bill say our legislators wasted the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunity for the flexibility ESSA provided to create more holistic accountability measures for our students, teachers and schools.

“What we’re getting is more of the same, the same thing we’ve been doing for decades,” Bobbie Cavnar, the outgoing teacher adviser to the board, said last month. “We’re doubling down on test scores. This is our chance to be innovative.”

Another major issue in the PDK report was “using public money to support private schools.” More Americans continue to oppose rather than favor using public funds to send students to private school (52 percent to 39 percent). And opposition rises to 61 percent when the issue is described in more detail.

According to Keith Poston’s report in the Friday Report on Sept. 8, “State lawmakers have increased funding for education initiatives aimed at shifting public dollars into private and, in many cases, unaccountable and/or for profit-education settings by 146 percent over the past five years.”

Lawmakers also continue to expand the state’s private school voucher program, planning to take it from the initial annual investment of $10 million to $145 million by 2026, spending nearly one billion taxpayer dollars over that time.

Imagine if the money being used to push this voucher program would be allotted to supporting wrap-around services for our public schools, another theme that surfaced in the PDK report: “Most Americans say schools should provide wrap-around services for students and seek additional public money to pay for them.”

What might these wrap-around services include? Ninety-two percent of citizens favor supporting after-school programs, and 87 percent support schools providing mental health services to students who cannot get this help somewhere else. Three-quarters of respondents say that schools are justified in seeking additional public funds to pay to provide such services.

We teachers are educated to build our students’ critical thinking by asking them to read and think about important issues and then ask questions. Our citizens and voters need to do the same.

To understand the discrepancies between the professed desires of the public in regards to education with the ongoing decisions of North Carolina’s policy makers, I encourage you to read both reports (linked in this column) and then ask questions. Why are our legislators not acting on the wishes of the majority of our citizens and the advice of our teachers, principals and educational leaders? Whose interests are they serving and why? The everyday education of our children depends upon the public’s civic responsibility in holding our legislators accountable for their actions on these important issues.

(Burrows is director of teacher education at Brevard College.)

 
 

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