Jen Mangrum UNC Graduation

Improving Education in North Carolina

“When Jim Hunt left office (Jan 2001), teacher pay in North Carolina had reached the national average.   The state jumped from 43rd to the top twenty.  The average SAT scores rose 40 points, faster than any other state, and NC’s ranking among states rose from 48th to 38th.  The Nat. Ed. Goals Panel formed by GWH Bush in 1990 said in 1998 that NC had made more progress in education during that decade than any other state.  Ed. Week newspaper rated NC one of the top twelve states overall in education.  Moving into the 21st century, NC and Jim Hunt were hailed nationally for what was happening in the public schools.”- Gary Pearce

We Need New Leadership in the Department of Public Instruction that:

Values Educators’ Knowledge and Expertise

For the past two years, I’ve taken a group of student teachers to Finland to study the Finnish public education system and study why it is one of the top education systems in the world.  While there are a variety of reasons specific to their culture and history, there are some components that North Carolina could and should adopt immediately.

First, teachers are respected and valued for their extensive expertise and knowledge.  Teaching is one of the highest paid professions in the country but salary is not the only marker of a teacher’s worth.  Teachers are trusted.  Parents and administrators believe that teachers have the expertise to create and manage assessment, formulate plans for delivering instruction and to meet the specific needs of the children in their classrooms.  In our current climate, state leaders like Superintendent Mark Johnson require teachers to follow scripted lessons, follow strict pacing guides and benchmarks, and to be technically compliant.  The failing Read to Achieve Program, hailed by Johnson, but proven to be detrimental to student literacy, is an example.

When we pay our teachers adequately and trust them to use their professional knowledge, we empower them and create learning spaces that are rigorous, creative and mutually respectful.  In addition, we will increase retention of our veteran teachers and their job satisfaction.

Makes School Systems Equitable So That ALL of NC’s Children Have a High Quality Education 

Living in rural North Carolina has some benefits; housing is more affordable, you know most everyone in your community, and there is more opportunity to interact with the natural surroundings.  But there are also downsides. Often, the population is smaller, the tax base is less and because manufacturing jobs have left, the number of working poor and the level of poverty are high.

In the summer of 2017, I wrote an article for NC Policy Watch, A Tale of Two Schools.  While the two schools in the article were only ten miles apart, the resources and opportunities in these schools were inequitable. ALL of our children deserve a high quality education and when our schools thrive, our communities and state thrive.  Investing in our schools and making sure schools have equitable resources means that all of North Carolina benefits.

Gives School Communities the Autonomy and Resources to Make Decisions

I recently asked the superintendent of a school district in northeast North Carolina about the challenges his district faces. He immediately said “resources”.  He went on to explain that in addition to limited funding, he has very little control over how the resources they do have are spent.   When it comes to decision making around such things as calendar, assessment and curriculum, he and his cabinet are left out of the discussion.  I won’t mention his name or district because he also referred to Superintendent Mark Johnson and his team as a “regime”.  He chose the word intentionally.  When Superintendent Johnson implements his own agenda, authority and control in our school districts, he ignores the culture of the district and the unique needs of the children.  Allowing school systems to be innovative and resourceful, and also transparent, will create more opportunities for students and families in those communities.

Makes Schools a Safe Place to Learn

One of the many cuts that Mark Johnson made at the Department of Public Instruction was to the School Safety Office.  Currently there is one employee and therefore a lack of multiple perspectives and ideas.  In addition there is a lack of expertise.  I believe that that “safety” cannot be defined only by lockdowns and limited access to buildings.  While those are important, so are school counselors to help students in trauma or dealing with mental health issues, school nurses to protect students from easily transmitted illnesses and diseases, and school social workers who can make home visits to learn the people and key players in the community.

Utilizes Smart Testing

I believe that as North Carolinians we must have high standards for our students and we must have evidence of their growth and success. My goal is for North Carolina to be number one in the country in achievement and so we must be able to demonstrate student understanding.

To do that I believe we need “Smart Testing”.  First, smart testing will be efficient and developmentally appropriate.  We will align local, state and federal requirements and minimize the amount of testing. Also we will expect teachers to use their own formative assessments to guide instructional decision-making.   Second, smart testing means using assessment as a teaching tool so that teachers can measure growth and provide appropriate interventions. Unlike Superintendent Johnson’s plan, testing should not be used to negatively label children, track them as low performers or be punitive.  Finally, smart testing should empower teachers.  Assessments should provide teachers with useful data and guide how they implement instruction.  It should inform how they design their curriculum and their pacing.  When we develop testing that is efficient, helpful and empowering, teachers and students won’t be anxious about testing but see it as a part of the learning process.

Requires High Standards That Meet the Variety of Needs for Our Students’ Success After Graduation

While the Common Core National Standards were not clearly communicated to parents and educators and were implemented hastily, the bulk of the standards were rigorous and demanded excellence from our students.  North Carolina must require excellence in instruction for all of our students.  North Carolina adopted most of the Common Core standards and tweaked them to reflect the goals of our citizens.  However, we must also address the soft skills, social skills and life skills necessary for our students to be productive and live an abundant life.

Along with a colleague, I co-founded a STEM Teacher Leader Collaborative that focused on engineering in elementary school the first 5 years of the organization.  We discovered that when students engage in engineering they are practicing problem-solving and critical thinking, and they are also learning to collaborate, persist, work through failure and communicate results.  These are skills students should be developing throughout their K-12 experience but in the current teach to the test climate, these skills often go untaught.

In addition, due to Johnson’s lack of leadership, North Carolina is one of only 10 states that have not adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. This is alarming.  If we want to prepare our students for the jobs of the future, we must develop a curriculum that is robust in the science, engineering, math and technology fields.

Recruits Excellent Teachers

As a Clinical Associate Professor in teacher education, I know that our enrollment in teacher preparation programs has decreased by more than 30% across all the public universities in our state.  We are on the verge of a teacher shortage crisis and many smaller systems believe we are already there.  There were more than 600 vacancies in elementary classrooms across the state after the first month of school and in more than 150 special education classrooms.

We also know that we must do a better job at recruiting teachers of color.  When students of color have at least one teacher of color in their lifetime, their achievement increases by more than 10%.  If they have two teachers of color achievement rises by more than 30%.  This research means that we can have a positive impact on the achievement gap by recruiting more teachers of color.

The current state leadership has largely reduced the number of Teaching Fellow Candidates and they are in only 5 universities.  They are in two private universities and no historically black colleges or universities.  In addition, the leadership limited the subjects that these fellows can major in.

I believe we can do better and that restoring the Teaching Fellows Program will help improve the teacher pipeline.  We will recruit more students to teaching and they will be among the best and the brightest North Carolina has to offer.

Acknowledges “Schooling” Begins at Birth and Years 0-3 Are the Most Important in Our Children’s Development

Research is clear that when children have access to high quality Pre-K, they are more likely to read by 3rd grade and thus more likely to graduate from high school.  This is true for all children but especially for our at-risk children living in poverty.

In the early 1970’s, public kindergarten was added to the public education system.  As we move toward the 22nd Century, we must consider the needs of our children and our society and what will help create and prepare a strong workforce for the future.  I think it’s time to have the conversation about universal Pre-k and including it as part of our public school system.

Sadly, our Pre-K teachers are paid much less than other educators and yet research shows that the majority of a child’s brain development happens long before kindergarten. Our Pre-K teachers are entrusted with our most fragile children and yet most of them make less than the city garbage collector.

Demands Accountability and Transparency From All Schools That Accept Public Tax Dollars

The education landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade.  In addition to our district schools, our communities include charter schools, private schools (those that accept vouchers as well as those that do not), early colleges, middle colleges, virtual schools, lab schools, homeschools, career academies and more!

Many families take advantage of the different school configurations without understanding the implications on district budgets, state funding and student achievement.  Until we address the issues of for-profit management companies, lack of accountability for private schools with vouchers, disparities in funding, and inequity in policies and oversight, we cannot afford to offer “choice” in our school communities.

Leaves Politics Out of Public Education Decisions

Our children’s education should not be compromised and our educators’ careers should not be ruined by political games and misinformation.  While public education should be non-partisan, the current Republican leadership is committed to dismantling it, giving the impression it’s failing and pushing and enticing families to choose charters, private or homeschool options instead. If you believe that public education is the core of our democracy and that all children deserve a high quality education, cast your vote for me. #jenmangrum2020