by Dr. Terry Stoops
Former Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Last week, the Republican leadership in the North Carolina Senate released details of the Excellent Public Schools Act. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, a primary sponsor of the bill, described it as "a bold new plan that puts our students first and equips them with skills needed to succeed in the classroom and in their future careers." This week’s CommenTerry features my review of the plan.
Last week, Senate Republicans released details of Senate Bill 795: The Excellent Public Schools Act. Modeled after successful K-12 school reform efforts in Florida, The Excellent Public Schools Act is an ambitious, 12-part education reform package that aspires to raise student achievement by strengthening reading instruction in the early grades, bolstering accountability, and improving teacher quality.
The proposed legislation includes the following components:
Consistent with reforms initiated last year, the bill would focus on reading instruction in the early grades. The two primary changes to reading instruction in grades K-3 include adding new reading-intensive instruction for students who struggle with reading and ending social promotion of students who cannot read at grade level by the end of third grade.
North Carolinians should welcome efforts to improve early literacy, but I question whether colleges and universities prepare elementary teachers to provide sound reading instruction. I also have concerns about the plan to end social promotion. Polls indicate that there is support for the idea, but the research literature is less definitive. While some students benefit from repeating a grade, retention may introduce academic and social struggles for others. To their credit, Senate Republicans designed a bill that has a strong focus on remediating, not punishing, those who are retained.
In an effort to improve teacher quality, the legislation would establish the North Carolina Teacher Corps program. Republicans modeled the initiative after the successful Teach for American program, which recruits outstanding college graduates to teach in low-income schools. The authors of the bill deserve kudos for this proposal.
Without a doubt, the most controversial part of the plan would require school districts to employ teachers on annual contracts. Although some private and charter schools do this now, traditional public schools maintain a "tenure" or "career status" policy that makes it difficult for districts to fire ineffective teachers. An annual contract system would eliminate this time-honored practice. In addition, the legislation would add due process protections for teachers who do not have their contracts renewed by their school districts. On the other hand, North Carolina’s best teachers would qualify for bonus payments under guidelines established by their local school boards.
A number of components of the plan — merit pay, alternative paths to teacher certification, and increasing transparency by assigning A-to-F performance grades for schools — are ideas that have been promoted by the John Locke Foundation for many years. (In the spirit of assigning grades to inanimate objects, The Excellent Public Schools Act earns a solid B grade from yours truly.) On the other hand, I do not recommend that the General Assembly provide funds for an additional five days of school, because the expenditure is not a productive use of taxpayer dollars.
The Senate proposal has a long way to go before it becomes law. After members of the General Assembly introduce substantive legislation, they debate and change it several times before each legislative chamber conducts a final vote. It is unlikely that the upcoming "short" legislative session will provide enough time for lawmakers to complete this time consuming process. In this way, I suspect that a final version of the Excellent Public Schools Act will not reach the governor’s desk until 2013. Surely, Republican legislators hope that the person occupying that desk will be one of their own.
I think it is time for a Billy Bunter movie. Who’s with me?
Facts and Stats
Based on our current state standards, 39.3% of North Carolina’s third graders are reading below grade-level on the North Carolina End-of-Grade (EOG) Test of Reading Comprehension — Grade 3. That percentage jumps to 53.5% for third graders receiving free/reduced lunch.
– Excellent Public Schools Act brochure, April 2012, p. 4
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].
Education Acronym of the Week
TEPSA — The Excellent Public Schools Act
Quotes of the Week
"In order to fix our state’s broken education system, we must stop constantly reaching for our checkbook and focus on reforming our playbook. If bigger budgets could buy positive results, then North Carolina’s achievement scores and graduation rates would have improved years ago. Rather than continue to rely on a failed tax-and-spend model, we need a bold new plan that puts our students first and equips them with skills needed to succeed in the classroom and in their future careers. And we must reward our most effective teachers so they can continue to inspire our children to achieve their best. We are enthusiastic about our education reforms and look forward to working across the aisle to achieve better results for our kids."
– Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in Senate Introduces Major Education Reform Package
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