Education panel: Let teachers focus on teaching
Source: Statesville Record & Landmark
By: Preston Spencer
May 4, 2012
Dr. Terry Stoops, education director for the John Locke Foundation, a free-market think tank in Raleigh, believes Iredell-Statesville Schools and Mooresville Graded School District are two of the most efficient school systems in the state.
“The language of return on investment, these are the things we need to get used to saying… and I will say here you are getting a very good return on your expenditure, but that’s not the case everywhere in North Carolina,” said Stoops.
Stoops cited high test scores, high graduation rates and low dropout rates coupled with below-average funding for the two districts.
“There is a huge gap between school systems like I-SS and MGSD and other school systems in the state that spend a lot more money and get a worse return on their investment,” Stoops said. “There is no easy way to fix this… but there is something seriously wrong in this state.”
Stoops, I-SS Superintendent Brady Johnson, MGSD Superintendent Dr. Mark Edwards and Joy Warner, executive director of Davidson-based charter school Community School of Davidson, anchored a forum discussion on education at the Charles Mack Citizen Center Wednesday evening.
The four presented their own situations, bringing up budget cuts, testing, teacher tenure and a changing global education world. The panel’s consensus was that now is not an easy time to be an educator.
“A generation ago, people expected universal access to schools,” said Johnson. “Now we’re being told, ‘We want universal success.’”
I-SS ranks 113 out of 115 districts in the state when it comes to per-pupil spending, receiving $7,045 per student, about $1,300 less than the state average of $8,397. The district has 80 percent of students on grade level, however, and a drop-out rate and graduation rate that rank among the top 15 districts in the state.
MGSD receives more money than I-SS, $7,856 per student, thanks to the local property schools tax, but it still well below the state average. The system has managed, though, to rank third in the state in test scores and have the fourth-lowest dropout rate. MGSD’s graduation rate is also one of the state’s highest at 91 percent, up from 64 percent just six years ago.
Stoops said that as the state moved forward with education spending, it may need to consider other ways to divvy out the money – possibly based on merit.
“We need to step back and say, ‘How are we spending money?’ Stoops said. “Are we spending it effectively, and can we learn (from those) who are spending it effectively?”
Warner brought the charter school voice to the table at the forum, explaining that charter schools are meant to be “small lab schools” where different ideas can be tested on smaller scales.
The Community School of Davidson opened in 2001. Its inaugural class is now finishing the 10th grade and the school will have its first graduating class in 2014. The charter has a waiting list of 3,400 students.
“I don’t think it’s a competition between traditional public, private and charter schools, and I think we’re all in the same boat for the same kids,” said Warner.
Warner said charters, which are publicly funded, need to find ways to collaborate more with the traditional public schools. She said becoming too disjointed in education will be detrimental.
“What can we do to perpetuate conversation around ‘our children’ instead of just my child?” Warner said. “If we as parents only worry about ‘my child,’ I truly believe that will be the downfall of our country.”
Johnson and Edwards repeatedly touched on the United States’ education rankings globally, which are slipping toward middle-of-the-pack status. Stoops discussed several other countries’ education models that are outpacing the United States, including Japan and Finland. He said teachers are spending many more hours in the classroom in this country than most, along with taking on added responsibilities, and aren’t able to get the same level of work from their students.
“In North Carolina, we put mandates and responsibilities on teachers – being parents to kids, driving buses – maybe we shouldn’t do that,” Stoops said.
The issue of tenure for teachers came up as well. The “Excellent Public Schools Act” awaiting a vote in Congress now would end teacher tenure and replace it with one-year contracts.
“I believe good teachers don’t need tenure and bad teachers don’t deserve it,” Edwards said.
It was agreed, though, by those on the panel that teachers deserve a pay raise after four years without one from the state and that the pay could go a long way toward recruitment.
“We need to attract the best people to the field,” Warner said. “They need to be amazing and get a paycheck that matches that.”
Chris Havener, a member of homeschool group Life at Lake Norman, spoke about homeschooled students briefly at the meeting. In 1989, there were 2,325 families choosing homeschooling in the state. In 2011, that number was 45,000, or around 83,000 kids.
There are about 1,750 homeschooled children in Iredell County, compared with 21,500 in I-SS, 5,500 in MGSD, 2,200 in three charter schools and 1,000 children spread across 13 private schools. Havener said homeschooled children are not at a disadvantage.
“We have enough curriculum at our fingertips to fill a football field,” said Havener. “It is amazing.”
About 30 people attended the forum. Mooresville residents Neil and Sandy Vroom moved from New York to N.C. a few years ago to be closer to their grandchildren, who live in Cabarrus County.
“We wish (our grandchildren) would live here,” said Sandy. “I’m very impressed by what’s going on in the school system.”
Despite not having children of their own in MGSD, the Vrooms said they were happy to pay the extra property tax that supplements the school district.
“It’s fine,” Sandy said. “The schools need it. I feel education is the most important thing you can spend money on. You pay now or you pay later.”