10/12/04 — Guest editorial: Education discussion was not enlightening

View Archive

Guest editorial: Education discussion was not enlightening

Gov. Mike Easley and Sen. Patrick Ballantine sparred for an hour about education last week, but I’m not sure voters are any better educated.

Most citizens would agree that we are making progress in public education, but it is not what we would want. The truth is the state of education in North Carolina is not Mike Easley’s fault just as he can’t get all the credit for the progress.

One of North Carolina’s greatest problems is that the governor isn’t totally in charge of education; neither is the legislature, the superintendent, the state Board of Education, or the local school systems.

Add to that mix the federal government and input from the courts and one can understand the universal frustration with where we are. We don’t have anyone to hold accountable, regardless of what gubernatorial candidates would have us believe. I would like to have heard a candidate verbalize this fact.

Particularly troublesome areas are excessive drop-out rates, performance disparities among races, overemphasis on testing, uneven delivery of a sound basic education (especially in low-wealth areas), teacher retention, unrealistic expectations from teachers, irregular quality of instruction, overlapping initiatives, rapid enrollment growth, continued social promotions, and an influx of children who don’t speak English.

This should have been enough to have provided some substantive debate. What we saw was misinformation and personal attacks.

Gov. Easley accurately stated there was no silver bullet in education, but why didn’t Ballantine respond better to one-note Easley’s education lottery solution? The lottery simply isn’t acceptable. Think about the lessons it would teach our children — that you can get something for nothing; that gambling is not only acceptable, it is the preferred solution. How does that mesh with character education?

I would like for Easley to have set the record straight. He is correct that the legislature completely abdicated its responsibility in funding the court-mandated disparity in low-wealth schools, despite recommendations from the state Board of Education. Further, while Easley did withhold funding for the teachers and state employee pension funds, not one dime of retirement pay was jeopardized. Our pension funds are actuarially overfunded, a difficult concept to explain in 20 seconds.

Easley put forth the school-within-a-school proposal, the K-13 grade initiative, and the learn-to-earn idea, but we heard little about them. Ballantine talked about his read-to-succeed concept, vocational education, and how teachers were only teaching to the high-stakes tests, but again details were sketchy. Solutions were few.

We can only hope the rhetoric can be toned down for future debates and that fewer sound bytes and more substance can be put into the discussion. Otherwise, the process doesn’t help anyone choose a candidate.


Campbell is former assistant state treasurer and is creator and host of “NC Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50.

Published in Editorials on October 12, 2004 12:01 PM