Chapel Hill: Opinion

Frank Camp: Equity or enabling in public schools?

I am fortunate to have worked in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for the past 30 years. I am very aware with how extremely blessed we are to have the wealth of student talent, teacher talent and the support of parents, administration and community.

Recognizing our good fortune and as I approach semi-retirement I want to share my perspective on public education and our focus on equity.

I am concerned we have created an enabling system at the expense of our students that misleads many of our parents and creates more work and stress for teachers. Asking a teacher with 24 students to differentiate and scaffold instruction while managing and/or “differentiating student behavior” in addition to providing rigor to all students, I don’t believe is a realistic expectation.

A class room of 24 seventh-grade students can include two students that barely speak English, two with IQs below 60, three with third grade reading ability and one from a abusive home. For demonstration purposes , I’ll refer to these eight challenged students as “Student Y” and the other 16 as “Student X.”

Is it equitable when Student Y gets a “B” grade and Student X gets a “B” for the same class ? Often parents of Student Y are misled because when their child gets a “B” they think their child is producing work equal to that of Student X. Student X suffers because he/she is probably not getting the rigor they deserve.

NOTE: Teachers are expected not to grade below a 60 even if students complete minimal or no work or if they understand the material or not. The graduation ceremony is now referred to as promotion ceremony so “No Child is Left Behind.” How much enabling do we do before we realize this “ain’t” a good thing.

I understand why we stay away from tracking, but I also believe we contradict ourselves and our focus on equity when we offer classes like LEAP.

The expectations and stress on teachers has increased exponentially over the past 10 years. In addition to academic differentiation, teachers have begun to differentiate student behavior. If a child uses profanity and/or threatens another student or teacher and the teacher is aware of pre-existing issues regarding the offender then the teacher may try to ignore it. Obviously this impacts other students and classroom instruction, but I’m afraid our current enabling system doesn't provide the necessary supports for our students and teachers. Teachers are now questioning their own instincts and judgment because they are not sure what to allow or what not to allow. Administrators struggle with how to discipline because their hands are tied due to exceptional child laws. Equity now has some parents being more concerned about fairness of consequences and discipline rather then focusing on addressing their child’s behavior. 

Punishment does not have to be a bad thing as long as a child is being nurtured through the process. It’s OK for a child to fail as long as we provide the supports for improvement. Our children need to have these experiences if we expect them to have the “grit” to experience a rewarding life.

Too many students are leaving our high schools without a skill. Bring back more trade skill classes. Checkout the furniture being produced at Cedar Ridge High School in Hillsborough.  

Frank “Coach” Camp has been a behavior and academic support coordinator, basketball coach, after-school director and athletic director during a 30-year career with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.