Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Conservative’s Viewpoint
- Failing Schools Hurt More Than Kids

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

Several years ago when I was living in Virginia, I took part in an effort to get more adults involved in public schools. Our children had completed their high school years and were off at college. I was so thankful for the wonderful job our local public schools had done in preparing our children for college and their futures. What I found while canvassing various neighborhoods shocked me. It was not so much the “I haven’t got time” response that disappointed me, but the complete lack of understanding of just how important our schools are to not only our kids, but to all of us.

Good schools positively impact the value of our homes, our taxes, health care, our community’s infrastructure, culture, law enforcement, jobs and more. Poor schools adversely affect them. In Eastern North Carolina, raising student test scores to meet or exceed state averages would go a long way toward improving both schools and communities.

The state of North Carolina issues a “report card” each year evaluating its public schools. Schools are graded on many different levels, but two of the most revealing numbers are end-of-year measurements of student test score results on all subject matter, and results that analyze only reading and math scores. For the school year ending in 2006, Washington, Wilson, Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Lenoir, and Northampton counties performed below state averages on both of these tests. The U. S. Department of Labor statistics through September shows each of these counties exceeding the state unemployment rate of 4.5 percent measuring from 5.3 to 6.9 percent unemployment.

Conversely, those eastern counties with the lowest unemployment rates, not surprisingly have their students scoring the highest in the region on one or both tests. Camden, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, and Johnston counties have unemployment below the state average ranging from two percent in Currituck to 4.1 percent in Craven and Johnston counties.

Pasquotank, Hyde, Gates, Brunswick, Tyrell and Sampson counties all have schools scoring below state averages on these tests, but also have unemployment rates below the state average. For most of these counties however, unemployment numbers will trend higher due to seasonal fluctuations in demand for labor, such as in Hyde, Brunswick, and Tyrell and Gates counties. Pasquotank has a large Coast Guard base and Sampson County borders Fayetteville with its significant military presence and supporting jobs.

The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation was established to foster improvement in the quality of education to children of all income and social classes whether provided by government, private, or in home. The foundation estimates that dropouts cost North Carolina $169 million each year. And even those that graduate are often not equipped with the critical thinking skills necessary to secure a decent job. This adds to unemployment and welfare rolls that take from, not give to, our communities. This can place an additional burden on current or potential employers saddled with the cost of re-education and re-training.

Traveling through the Albemarle region of eastern North Carolina can be both exhilarating and depressing. Winding your way from Elizabeth City, to Hertford, through Edenton, on to Plymouth, Windsor, Williamston, Tarboro and Ahoskie, one marvels at the beauty of the fertile farm land and the scenic countryside with its meandering waterways winding their way through this once proud region of our state. If you venture into the towns themselves you can see boarded up and vacant storefronts – vestiges of days long past. Textile mills lay empty and many wonderful antebellum homes shed tears from years of neglect. Is it the chicken or the egg? Did some of these towns decline first and then their schools? Or was it the other way around? It doesn’t matter.

Many people today are retiring to North Carolina. That has brought some measure of financial growth to parts of eastern North Carolina, but hasn’t produced the kind of good paying jobs this region desperately needs.

A place to live is more than good weather and an abundance of scenic waterways. It is the intergenerational experience of community, where there is ample employment, adequate health care, downtowns that are alive, reasonable taxes, homes that are affordable and communities that are safe. Industry and business look for these qualities when searching for viable destinations for expansion, start up, or relocation of their operations. They are also seeking good schools.

Improving all of our public schools will help insure we will have future prosperity in eastern North Carolina for generations to come. To allow failure in any one of them is an unacceptable option.

Great article Bob. Schools are the key to a successful society. In fact our representative republic based on democratically elected officials cannot survive without a literate citizenry. To see an overall dropout rate in our shcools of more than 30% . . . with half our black male children dropping out . . . is a depressing legacy of the education unions changing school focus from children to an education bureaucracy.

It is time for us to stop creating central school administrations that burden our teachers with massive administrative trivia and go back to the system that worked. That was an era of competition for children and focus on results, not experiments in the latest education fad. Our children are not experiments. The only reason that we have federal tests today is our parents are not allowed to fire teachers who are failing. The parents know who is not teaching, but parents have no power at all to represent their children in the modern school system.

Power of the parents has been passed to education unions demanding tenure for lousy practices that don't teach. That has been disastrous for out kids.


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