Educators from across North Carolina literally put themselves in the seats of state legislators last week, when they came to the Capitol for a series of meetings arranged by House Speaker Thom Tillis.
For a total of six hours of give and take in the state House chamber, superintendents, principals and teachers candidly and publicly shared with legislators their thoughts on every major education reform issue today.
Perhaps the most telling revelation came from Gaston County schools Superintendent Reeves McGlohon, who reported that this was the first time in his 43-year career that he had been invited to such a session.
But there were other important insights as well.
More than one educator expressed concern that a merit pay system could spark unwanted competition among teachers and damage morale at schools. I still believe that merit pay is an essential part of any education modernization effort. But I do see the value of including overall school performance as a component of a merit pay formula, as a way to promote a supportive environment and a sense of camaraderie at every school.
Another educator reported that the school calendar makes it very difficult for our more ambitious high school students to take courses at our community colleges. Our community college system is one of North Carolina’s most valuable resources, and we want everyone who wishes to be able to take full advantage of it. Perhaps we should give our school systems more flexibility so that more high school students can benefit.
On the flip side, I was very glad that Speaker Tillis was able to talk directly with these educators about the challenges that we as legislators face in balancing competing priorities. For example, more money for K through 12 education might mean less for Health and Human Services, which could mean that more children show up for kindergarten unprepared.
These meetings didn’t solve the big challenges our education system is facing today. Legislators and educators are probably still quite far apart on school choice issues – especially charter schools and tax credits for families sending their children to private schools. And, although the opinions of these experienced educators should be highly valued, so should the voices of parents and students.
But this was a great first step.
Educators literally sat in our seats this past week. I can’t promise they’ll agree with everything the legislature does this session, but I can promise that as we make important decisions about our education system, we’ll put ourselves in theirs.