Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory debate on education

Two days ago, when I informed my co-workers that I would be skipping the first few hours of work on Friday for a gubernatorial forum on public schools, most people just nodded politely. One woman, with a bit of a sneer, said, “Why do you care about public schools? You don’t even have any children.” I smiled sweetly and informed her that ironically, although I have no children, I helped pay for their education, and therefore have an interest in how the schools are run. She didn’t say too much after that.

What I witnessed at the SAS campus in Cary yesterday morning were two intelligent people with two fundamentally different opinions on how to run North Carolina’s education system. I have to give Bev Perdue some credit – this is the best I’ve seen her in any of the debates. Don’t read too much into that statement. She bombed the last two debates, making such embarrassing gaffes as telling us that including vocational training for mechanics, electricians, or plumbers in our high school was lowering our expectations for our children.

I noticed that Perdue didn’t make that same mistake during this debate, but I also noticed that her argument against Pat McCrory’s vocational training in high school proposal was rather empty. Could it be that her only reason for disagreeing with McCrory’s plan is that she thinks people who work with their hands are second-class citizens? If that’s not it, she didn’t give this blogger a reason to think otherwise.

Both candidates seemed fairly relaxed, and perhaps that was what made the biggest difference for Perdue. In the other debates, she has seemed nervous, uptight, and almost jittery, and maybe that’s due to the fact that she’s a one-issue candidate. She knows her education platform, and there’s no denying that, even for someone as pro-McCrory as myself. However, the question remains – which candidate has the best plan to reform the North Carolina public school system?


Bev Perdue has been pretty open about her plan to raise teacher salaries across the board and work on offering free community college tuition to high school graduates. When asked how North Carolina would pay for free community college tuition, Perdue responded that we would pay for it “the way we’ve always paid for education in North Carolina.” She did not elaborate further, so the assumption there is that our taxes will be raised to cover the cost.

Perdue stated that she is pleased with the current system of testing children and basing teacher raises on the outcome of the test results, but perhaps it is time to review the current testing system and also judge student performance on other diagnostics.

When asked if she had a plan to lower the dropout rate, Perdue stated that the key to keep kids in school is beginning education earlier (pre-K) and focusing on diagnostic assessments to make sure every kid remains on grade level. She stated that giving every child the opportunity to go to college would also lower the dropout rate. She also told us that she would stress the importance of education to parents and remind them that their kid will not just be competing with Americans, but with kids from China.


Pat McCrory laid out his plan that the key to lowering the dropout rate is to offer more options for students. “Not every child in North Carolina wants nor needs a four-year college degree” has been one of his talking points since the primaries, and during this debate, he referred to the idea that all kids need a four-year degree as “elitism”.

He stressed his desire to match education policy with job openings, and said that we need more representation from the business community on the state board of education. Along those same lines, McCrory thinks that we should treat our schools like a business, and therefore pay teachers as the market would – since we have a great need for science and math teachers, people willing to teach math and science should demand a high salary, as should teachers willing to work in schools in lower-income areas.

He also stressed letting the local government have more of a say in their schools, whether how long a school year should last, or how a school bond could be best spent in their community (construction, technology, programs, etc.).


Local involvement

Both candidates have valid opinions on how to change the NC school system, but only one truly appeals to the best interests of the community and the future of North Carolina. Pat McCrory’s common sense approach to letting the local government have more of a say in their schools is a plan that I’ve been hearing citizens espouse for years. If we don’t think the federal government should be able to judge all schools the same across the nation, why do we think the state government should be able to judge all schools the same across the state? Different areas have different education needs. Conversely, Perdue states “that responsibility rests with the governor”. She seems to have this idea that she will be able to visit every school system in the state and will be able to determine how to best education their kids in one meeting.

Education & Economy

McCrory’s plan to get the business leaders involved is another plan with great potential. As I told my co-worker, we are all paying for the public schools, so we all have an interest in how they work. North Carolina’s economy relies on our future workers, and business leaders would best be able to determine what future skills our children will need to find a job when they graduate. McCrory looks at education as a team effort between the private and public sectors – Perdue sees it as a competitive “every man for himself” system, as witnessed by her remark that our children will be forced to compete against each other as well as children across the world.

Drop-out rate

Finally, Bev Perdue’s plan to lower the drop out rate by making sure students stay on grade level just doesn’t hold water in the real world. High schoolers don’t always drop out because they just aren’t good at school. I had several friends in high school who were very intelligent and made good grades, but quit because they didn’t have any desire to go to college. They preferred to quite school at 16 and go directly into the workforce, usually construction of some sort. McCrory understands that not all kids need that four year degree and that our workforce always needs skilled workers, and he offers hope for those students who don’t have any interest in higher education.

Both candidates stressed using “common sense” in our education policy, but only one actually illustrated how to do so. I think Pat McCrory’s common sense education policy will lower the drop-out rate and make North Carolina’s public school system one of the most effective in the nation. Bev Perdue's ideas just represent more of the same -- centralized control over the education system, unrealistic testing expectations for students, and higher taxes for NC citizens. As someone with a real interest in our state's education system, I know who I'll be voting for. How about you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This, my dear, is why I early voted for Pat McCrory. :)