North Carolina is uniquely positioned to have the best education system in the nation. That’s the point on which everyone has agreed as Business for Educational Success and Transformation – a bipartisan, nonprofit group of business leaders – has talked with hundreds of education experts, stakeholders and leaders to discuss a vision for education in North Carolina.
Over the past few years, state lawmakers have supported key priorities to help meet that goal, including raising teacher pay and emphasizing early-grade supports to foster third grade literacy. But these are pieces of a far more complex puzzle. We must resolve not to rest on our laurels, settling for the average education outcomes we have seen for the last decade.
The next generation of education in our state needs to be innovative, engaging, aligned with the state’s economic needs and opportunities, and led by educators who are supported and cultivated to be the best in the nation. North Carolina’s educational approach must be based on evidence and strategic investments and, perhaps most important, on collaboration between adults on all sides who want the best results for students.
The three state budgets proposed by the governor, Senate and House make it clear that our political leaders are committed to continuing their efforts to improve education in North Carolina. The governor proposed a responsible budget that would largely preserve current investments in education, with a strong emphasis on early career teachers and teacher leadership. The House has developed a comprehensive package for recruiting, preparing and supporting school teachers and leaders as we transition to 21 century learning environments. And the Senate has prioritized smaller class sizes in the early grades and increased the focus on our state’s lowest-performing schools and districts.
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If we combine the priorities of these three budgets, we can significantly move the needle on education. The truth is, we need all of these ideas, working effectively together to bring about real improvements for students.
In its budget, the Senate is proposing dramatically smaller class sizes in the early grades with student-to-teacher ratios as low as 15 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade. This is an evidence-based approach to further the legislature’s commitment to improve third grade literacy and close achievement gaps. But it can’t happen without strategically adding thousands of new, high-quality K-3 educators. This is one example where the House proposal can be powerfully combined with the Senate plan. The House has proposed a comprehensive package that will significantly improve student access to high quality teachers, school principals and learning environments
We must pay attention to the teacher pipeline not only for smaller class sizes to work, but also to help ensure the long-term success of low-performing schools, a core focus of the Senate. Research proves that educators are the most important in-school factor for student success in all schools, and great teachers and leaders are absolutely critical to successful turnarounds.
As business leaders, we understand the importance of having the best talent to get the job done. We commend lawmakers for the investments they have already made to prioritize third grade literacy and dig average teacher salaries out of a decades-long hole. We must further invest in early career teachers, offer teachers professional advancement as mentors and coaches, and raise the bar for school leadership to more rapidly move North Carolina forward.
J. Walter McDowell is board chairman of Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina (BEST NC).