Public education and politics in North Carolina

Public school advocates and press supporters have done disservice to North Carolina teachers. With hysterical attacks on the State General Assembly that initiated some reforms to the State government education system they sometimes have given the impression that teachers are an “angry mob.” Teacher’s satisfaction with their work, guaranteed jobs and school choice have been some of the most volatile and distorted issues.

Recently, questionable studies by two UNC-Wilmington professors have tried to show that, “Parents, like the teachers and principals, were overwhelmingly frustrated with the changes made to public schools,” according to a story in the Wilmington StarNews by Pressley Baird. After months of negative press stories and editorials defaming our State legislators working on necessary education reforms, it’s no surprise that some people feel that “the state is headed in the wrong direction” in public education. But is this valid?—not if one does a little investigation.

Aside from the fact that State employees at the university have a vested interest in the government monopoly of education, we read toward the end of this article that “about 62 percent of the 2,300 respondents “were or had been employed by a public school”—hardly an unbiased survey. Further, despite the inferences of annoyance with legislative reforms, about one-third of the survey respondents considered sending their children to private or charter schools. And “many parents” who responded rated their own schools higher than hearsay about other schools. This university “study” seems to be conflicted and confusing at best, and strongly biased at worst. (link)

For instance, why would such a large number of people in the sample (770?), who have worked in the public school system, want to send their children to other schools while many others express satisfaction with their school? Could it be that this is not about educating children, but about political interest groups lobbying to protect their comforts?

Dan Way writing in the February issue of the Carolina Journal reports that a lawsuit filed in the Wake County Superior Court last December by the North Carolina Association of Educators and six teachers claims that career status for teachers is a “vested, contractual property right.” Other States are divesting of this unfair practice to essentially guarantee jobs without evidence of qualifying performance—unknown in the private sector. (link, p.9)

Dr. Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh describes several studies showing that teachers surveyed were satisfied with their choice of profession: 90 percent in one case. They also feel that they have “significant control” over their work. A majority are satisfied with working conditions. And they “overwhelmingly” believe they have support from the community and administrations. (link p.8)

Mr. Way’s article cites research in North Carolina indicating that tenured teachers aren’t worried about this job security being taken away; they don’t need it because they have demonstrated abilities. It’s the poor performing teachers that worry about their previously protected jobs—as well they should.

Finally, there’s the charter/private school issue. Recently a letter to the StarNews Editorial Board from a writer at the Heartland Institute in Chicago pointed out the confused thinking shown in a recent editorial about school choice. Robert Holland acknowledged the Board’s recognition of “expanding educational options for North Carolina families.” But editors’ argue that choices must be “within the government-controlled system.” They cite small, innovative “niche” projects available only to a very few students in public schools. (link)

Mr. Holland wonders if “niche” programs have appeal, “why should the keepers of public schools fret about private scholarships and public charter schools siphoning students and money? Few would want to leave.” Editors argue for school choice, but with limits. Holland responds: “Why not throw off the ideological shackles and advocate that all public schools operate as chartered schools of choice”…and “welcome private choice” to assure competition. (link)

Indeed, why not?


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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