I’ve been in many social and work situations recently where people talk about the complexity of the world or, worse, the mess. People argue about what our kids need to worry about compared to what it was like when we were growing up. I even hear how kids are so enthralled with the new Top Gun movie because they watched the original based in the 80s. They want to know what it was like when we were growing up. My college-aged son even sincerely asked me if we had school shootings when I was a kid.
As I have tried to process the past two years and even the past two weeks through my education lens – from Uvalde, to the legislation dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” (HB 755), to the term loss of learning, to volatile school board meetings, to teacher burnout, and to the polarization of our government, I often come away with a sense of overwhelming complexity, writing down layer after layer of everything that needs to happen.
But, this weekend, after more discussions, many with students, I left with a very different thought.
Yes, educating our wonderfully diverse students is very complicated. But, in terms of what we as a state and government have to do, it’s actually very, very simple. Yes, simple.
We just have to put our children and their needs first. When we watch all that happens, we rarely hear our children centered in the center of the discussions. Our children are the very people who will shape our world, our economy and our communities for decades to come. However, they will also inherit what we create. They will live with the challenges, the traumas or the opportunities that we offer them.
The simple part is this. If we really look at what the research tells us about what our children need to succeed in college, in their careers, and in citizenship (and thereby help our economy and communities thrive), we have a way forward. clear. Interestingly, we do this in one area — the science of reading. We’ve looked at the research, we’ve seen examples of this in practice, and we’re moving forward in an effort to equip our educators with the tools and resources they need to ensure our students have access to effective and high-quality reading instruction. . The same leaders who advance the science of reading – leaders on both sides of the aisle – have the opportunity and the responsibility to follow the research on what we need for children. We must ensure that:
- Every child has access to quality and effective teachers:
Teachers are the primary school-related factor that impacts student learning. Every child in North Carolina deserves quality, well-prepared educators. We must promote the profession, the diplomas required and support our teachers in initial and continuing training. The working conditions and remuneration of teachers are important elements. Our legislature, with $4.5 billion more than projected (in addition to a large surplus in the biennium), has the resources to get it right. Teachers don’t need $13 or $100 more per paycheck. They need big raises that help them afford to live in the communities they serve, help them pay for child care so they can teach, and honor education, degrees and the skills they bring to our schools every day. To attract and retain a diverse and highly effective teaching workforce, we must trust our teachers and compensate them.
- Our students feel physically safe:
Research shows us that our students need to feel safe to learn. Right now, our students are wondering if they are safe in their schools. They see the same news and messages as we do. We have an opportunity to follow what our constituents say they want – to make sure gun safety is part of our efforts as a state. Our students cannot learn if they do not feel safe. The safety of our students and educators must take priority over disagreements between adults who have the power to impact our schools.
- Our students feel supported:
Feeling safe and supported goes beyond the physical and includes mental and emotional safety. Students need to be able to be themselves and feel safe with teachers and others in their schools. When we try to prohibit our students from having a culturally and age appropriate curriculum, we send a strong message that their family composition or how they might identify themselves is not not acceptable. Limiting their ability to see themselves in the curriculum and discuss global issues, including race or gender-related topics, in a safe setting with a high-quality, well-prepared teacher affects their ability to be ready to learn and to flourish.
- Districts and schools can meet the needs of each student:
Our principals are the second most important school-related factor (only for teachers) that impacts student achievement. We must pay them market rates and provide them with the human and fiscal resources they need to support our educators and students. We must not only add to their plates, but also remove requirements. We need to create systems where they can have the other staff they need and the pay scales to hire them. We cannot force them to have bake sales to buy materials and books. Likewise, our superintendents and district leaders are responsible for large organizations, which often have thousands of employees and tens of thousands of students. We must trust them to lead well and respect the structures in place to guide them in their work.
We must honor the role that our public schools play in our community and the right to a good basic education granted by our state constitution. I have been reminded almost daily during the pandemic that our schools are the centers of our communities. They were the very glue that kept people connected, nurtured our students, and made sure families knew someone cared. Our schools are the center of our rural, suburban and urban communities; and we must do what research shows us is necessary. Our legislators are often quick to complain about our schools, but we are still a long way from providing the human and fiscal resources, following the research, or implementing the Leandro Global Recovery Plan to allow them to do what they are. ready and able to do. do – to provide a high quality and equitable education to our students.
The work of our educators and school principals is indeed very complicated. Working with human beings – families and children – places many demands and opportunities on us. But what our heads of state have to do is not complicated at all. We have a huge surplus, we have the research, and we have the data that shows where we are falling short. I’ll stop saying it’s so complicated because it’s not. The answers are actually very simple – and achievable. The only thing stopping our legislators and policymakers is the desire to follow the data, keep up with the research, and provide our schools with the same research-based resources and practices that any company would insist on having.
We can hide behind excuses of complexity; but it’s simple, North Carolina.