For Throwback Thursday (on Friday), I am sharing an old picture that my first grade teacher sent me last year. I went to private school through fifth grade, and then public school until I graduated high school. Whether public or private, whether I was in elementary or high school, my parents always played a critical role in my education, my schooling, and my learning. I believe that their reinforcement, gentle guidance, and juxtaposition of our family’s values and culture on top of communal educational offerings provided me with the ability to think critically, to apply rigor and method when seeking truth, and to stand up for the things I believe are right.
Education is such an important, multi-faceted, controversial, and oft-discussed issue in North Carolina and America. There is a constant and growing focus on social agendas creeping into schools, but we need to bring light to common-sense fundamentals in the conversation:
1. Two thirds of North Carolina eighth-graders did not read proficiently BEFORE the pandemic. Nationally (and also before COVID), 65% of America’s fourth graders were not reading at a proficient level.
2. Related to COVID, “more than 30% of North Carolina third grade students failed to meet the state promotion standards at the end of last school year due to their poor reading scores. Only 43.7% of third-grade students demonstrated reading proficiency – even after getting a second chance at a summer reading camp. Moreover, 31% of third-grade students in North Carolina were retained at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.” Nationally, students were an average of 3-6 percentile points behind where they would normally be in reading, and 8-12 points behind in math with youngest students faring the worst.
3. Nationally, the teachings of History, Geography, and the Constitution – foundational to freedom and ideological evolution - have become vague, watered down, and compressed to make room for other educational priorities, and to reflect opinions and feelings rather than presenting the facts.
What is the single largest risk to our freedoms and system of government? If our kids can’t read. What is the biggest challenge America faces in competing with other nations and maintaining competitive advantage? Math and science. How do we best preserve our individual liberty? Through knowledge of the Constitution, the good/bad/ugly of America, and World History.
In the United States, under Article 10 of the Constitution, education is supposed to be strictly a state and local matter. This changed after the Civil War when the federal government insisted that education was a matter of national concern. The level of authority and reach of the education department ebbed and flowed until the 1970s when President Carter called for a cabinet-level department to coordinate and administer hundreds of federal education programs. Today, the department operates around 300 federal, social, education, and training programs, and there is no universally-accepted and interpreted definition for “educational program” to limit the scope and scale of educational influence that can come from the national level.
Parents play a critical role in keeping education balanced, fact-based, and honest. For parents to maintain this role, key decisions about education need to be pushed to a level as close to the students as possible, and then made transparent and accessible by state and local administrators. When programs are rolled out from the federal level, parents lose their role in the partnership of education, and worse, the mechanisms for change feel out-of-reach. The end result is a growing frustration and resentment in parents that manifests in local school board meetings across North Carolina and America. Local teachers, staff, and administrators – a critical part of the education system because they hold the unique and important role of blending specialized knowledge of education and pedagogical methods with specific insights about who our children are and how they learn - find themselves caught in the middle and powerless to act in the ways they think are best. Parents get frustrated because they don’t see change. Local teachers, staff, and administrators, leave their jobs because they cannot change the federal frameworks and priorities that drive how we educate. Our children are the ones who ultimately lose.
Federal Agencies are not built for the kind of agility, innovation, and dynamism that is required for good education. We need to streamline the Department of Education, and minimize centrally-held authority and decision making in our schools. The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary school education programs. Although critics will argue that this only accounts for about 8% of the total funding on public education, we see the crippling effects federal decisions can have on education playing out again and again – Common Core Standards, No Child Left Behind, and using federal funding to assert partisan and socially motivated agendas.
Expect more. It's possible.