People can’t say enough good things about making sure students can read by the time they reach fourth grade, one proposal among the sweeping changes Republican senate leaders want in public education. The rest of their plan, however, has not drawn the same praise.
Senate Republicans want to intensify early-grade reading instruction, stop most third-graders who don’t read well from being promoted, offer money for teacher merit pay, eliminate tenure, and pay for five additional instructional days in the school calendar. The cost would be about $46 million next year and $436 million over five years.
As they gathered public comments, the bill’s authors have received criticism and suggestions for changes on nearly every part of the plan.
While the state School Boards Association supports eliminating tenure for new teachers, it warned that taking it away from veteran teachers would spur lawsuits.
“While a strong legal argument could be made that ending tenure for those who have already earned it is permissible, how the state courts might rule is far from clear-cut and will likely take years of litigation to play itself out,” says the association’s analysis.
The N.C. Association of Educators questioned the plan for merit pay, suggesting legislators instead come up with a new salary schedule that includes factors such as student improvement, professional development and experience. June Atkinson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the focus on reading should start earlier than senators suggest, and that making children repeat grades doesn’t help.
The State Board of Education recently dropped its policy of preventing “social promotion” because it didn’t work.
“Our experience with the mandatory standards in the ’90s did not yield any significant results as far as reading improvement,” Atkinson said. Atkinson said such extensive changes should be considered during the legislative “long session,” when legislators’ time at work is counted in months, not weeks.
Senate leader Phil Berger said the proposal will be modified before it comes back to legislators for comments and changes. The tenure proposal will change, Berger said, but legislative lawyers disagree with the School Boards Association concern that it would create legal problems. He has been promoting the bill and presented it to a Senate committee Wednesday.
In an interview, he dismissed suggestions that legislators should hold off until next year.
“The folks that have been running education in North Carolina for the last 100 years are now saying we’re going too fast,” he said. “They’ve drug their feet for far too long as far as I’m concerned.”
He fielded some critical questions from Senate Democrats on Wednesday, who said that if the goal is to have children reading well by fourth grade, Republicans should not have cut N.C. Pre-K in their budget.
Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, said reading preparation starts before children enter kindergarten.
“You’re looking at one corner of a very large canvas,” Stein said. “I encourage you to broaden your view.”
Berger said the bill is not meant to consider pre-kindergarten funding.