Tragedy in North Carolina: Re-segregating and Dismantling Public EducationPosted: September 24, 2011
Guest blogger Betsy Burrows, Assistant Professor of English at Brevard College, describes herself as a “concerned teacher, mother, and citizen in North Carolina.” Her comments below lament the negative impact on equity in access and the quality of education that reactionary ideology and big money have succeeded in forcing on North Carolina’s public schools. What was once a model system is being downgraded through a creeping restructuring and privatization of the entire public education infrastructure.
Tragedy in North Carolina: Re-segregating and Dismantling Public Education
by Betsy Burrows
I still remember the romantic, idealistic defiance I felt in my high school days when I youthfully debated against the following sentiment as expressed in “Self –Reliance,” an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is Christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For everything that is given, something is taken. Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts.” That idealism has turned to profound sadness when I look at what in one year our state legislators have done in North Carolina to quickly dismantle the last 25 years of progress and enlightenment in public education. In one summer session, North Carolina elected officials ceased the funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a research-based program housed in our public and private Institutes of Higher Education that recruits our best and brightest high school students into teaching, pays for a high quality preparation and supports them with professional development so they remain in the profession, not just for a couple of years like Teach for American candidates, but for a career. According to Linda Darling-Hammond in her 2010 book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will determine our Future, “the program enhances [enhanced] the teaching pool by bringing a disproportionate number of males, minorities, and math and science teachers into the profession. After 7 years, retention rates in teaching for these recruits have exceeded 75%, with many of the other alumni holding positions as principals or central office leaders” (142). In this same 2011 summer session, legislators ceased funding the NC Teacher Academy and cut in half the budget for the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching. To add personal injury to the professional insult, North Carolina also ended funding for NC Governors School, a summer enrichment program for public school students throughout the State where at seventeen I first read the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Quickly following this defunding of public education and professional development for teachers in our State, was the NC State Board of Education’s approval of the application and rubric for what they call “fast track” charter school applicants to private organizations who can demonstrate that they can fund and operate a school successfully. The approval was not predicated on whether these charter schools were actually able to educate our children for their future roles of citizens in a Democracy, and the approval ignores national studies like the ones conducted by Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) where economist Margaret Raymond findings conclude that “ in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their TPS [traditional public school] counterparts. Further, tremendous variation in academic quality among charters is the norm, not the exception. The problem of quality is the most pressing issue that charter schools and their supporters face” (6).
These actions by NC legislators reveal an ideology that does not support public education and wants to privatize our school systems. In fact, Rob Christenson, a writer from the Raleigh News and Observer has investigated the ties between these newly elected legislators and Art Pope, a retail executive who uses his money to fund libertarian-conservative think tanks like Civitias Action, Inc. and Real Jobs NC, nonprofit organizations that funnel money to legislators who support his views. Being a teacher, I could forgive my legislators for their ignorance in not doing their research on Educational issues, but as a citizen I cannot forgive their duplicity in failing to articulate their agenda and their allegiance to an ideology that supports ending public education, the foundation that our Democracy is built upon. I have never understood the Emerson quote that “Democracy becomes a pulpit for bullies tempered by editors” until now. I just want more “editors” to help temper these educational legislative bullies and their barbarous attacks on teachers and schools.
For further information on the impact of big money on the restructuring of North Carolina public schools, see: Robert Greenwald Discusses the Koch Brothers Battle to Re-segregate North Carolina Public Schools
Posted on September 24, 2011