House select committee releases final draft report recommending education changes

RALEIGH — The House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future released its final draft report recommending various changes to the state’s education system at a meeting held on Dec. 12. 

The committee first met on Jan. 24, 2022.  Over a dozen meetings were held throughout the year leading up to the meeting on Dec. 12. Many of the meetings were of a listening tour style in nature and took place at schools in the various districts across the state.  

Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) chairs the select committee. Co-chairs include Rep. Hugh Blackwell (R-Burke), Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) and David Willis (R-Union).  

Torbett indicated the committee will continue to meet when lawmakers return for the long session. 

The draft report is 38 pages long and provides a summary of the committee’s work with six main findings. The report does not include any suggestions for fulfilling the recommendations presented. 

Finding 1: All students should receive a high-quality standard education. 

The committee “strongly recommends” continued study by the General Assembly of the “most essential content necessary” for students to be successful and be “career and college ready.” 

The committee’s report found that the standard education should include “English, Mathematics, Science, History, the Arts, and career and technical education (CTE) as the core focus of elementary and secondary education.” 

Early literacy was also found to be “vitally important” for students to be successful, as was science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics, often referred to as “STEAM.” 

Finding 2: North Carolina should continue to increase educator pay, allow educators to focus on instructional duties, and provide educators with opportunities for growth and advancement.  

The report says the state is having difficulty hiring and retaining qualified educators for every school and the committee received testimony that increasing educator pay would help fix those issues.  

Additionally, the committee’s findings say that teachers should be able to focus on instructional duties and that non-instructional duties should be minimized. More high-quality professional development opportunities were also mentioned for increasing retention and job satisfaction.   

To that end, the committee’s report recommends lawmakers continue to review the current salary schedules for educators and find ways to adjust job duties.  

Finding 3: All children deserve a safe place to learn free from distraction.    

The recommendation for this finding is continued study by lawmakers of ways to create safe learning environments for all students.    

It was found by the committee that a safe and supportive learning environment includes increasing instructional supports such as providing all students with character education instruction. In the same vein, the report also cites the importance of teachers having the authority to maintain order in their classrooms without fear of repercussion.  

“For students who continue to disrupt the learning environment, the Committee finds that alternative learning placements provide these students the opportunity to learn in a more focused environment that is equipped to provide additional support,” according to the report. 

Finding 4: The North Carolina student assessment system should be designed to generate useful data to help ensure students’ post-secondary success. 

Overall, the committee recommends that the assessments used by the state continue to be evaluated by the General Assembly, including adjusting testing where needed. 

The report says the student assessment system should be focused on “ongoing student achievement” and provide “real-time information” so that teachers can adjust instruction as needed. That system should also provide useful data for parents which is easy to access and understand. 

Additionally, student mastery of a course should be “determined by more than one data point, not just success or failure on a single high-stakes final exam.” 

Finding 5: The mandatory school calendar law should be adjusted to better fit the needs of students and educators.  

The report says that the current school calendar is “not the best suited to the needs of students and educators” and recommends legislators take action to allow more calendar flexibility. 

Over the course of the committee’s meetings Torbett has suggested a calendar running from Labor Day to Memorial Day. The travel industry has pushed back on changes to the calendar to “preserve summer vacations.” 

The current K-12 traditional school calendar system, which begins on the Monday closest to August 26 and end no later than the Friday closest to June 11, has been a long-standing issue for districts and lawmakers alike.  

 In the last year, Cleveland, Gaston and Rutherford Counties have all defied the state’s calendar law. School boards in large districts like Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg have also complained about the lack of calendar flexibility. 

Finding 6: The division of authority between the appointed State Board of Education and the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction should be changed to grant greater authority to the Superintendent.  

Per the report, the “division of authority between the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction creates a power struggle that causes more strife than support for North Carolina’s education system.”  

The power struggle mentioned in the report had high visibility under former State Superintendent Mark Johnson who entered into a legal battle with the state board when it sued over the General Assembly granting the role of superintendent more authority. The case ultimately wound up in front of the N.C. Supreme Court which ruled mainly in Johnson’s favor granting the superintendent shall direct and control “all matters relating to the direct supervision and administration” of the public school system. 

“The Committee has received public comment stating that the greater authority should be placed with the official directly elected by the people of the State, instead of an appointed body,” the report states. 

What the committee’s report is proposing appears to be giving more power and autonomy to the state superintendent’s role and would require the state’s constitution to be amended by voters. 

Over the past few decades, the state board of education and state superintendent have regularly battled over the superintendent’s job responsibilities and decision-making authority.  Both parties in the General Assembly have made attempts to alter the governing structure of the state board of education.  

A 2008 study that in part addressed the roles of the state board of education and superintendent was presented to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee in Jan. 2009 by Evergreen Solutions, LLC, a consulting group out of Tallahassee, Florida. 

Evergreen Solutions’ executive summary placed heavy emphasis on maintaining gubernatorial control over both entities. Despite the state’s constitution giving educational policy authority to the legislature, Evergreen characterized the governor’s office as “the real power behind shaping education policy in North Carolina.” 

House Bill 521 was drafted in 2013 to alter the state board of education’s governance through a constitutional amendment. That bill would have made the superintendent the board chair and allowed the governor to appoint the superintendent instead of the position being elected by the voters. 

Several years later, in 2017, House Bill 133 was introduced to amend the state constitution to require members of the state board of education be elected positions. 

House Bill 1173 was introduced in June of this year. The bill did not advance to the Senate. While similar to the 2017 bill’s proposal to elect members to the state board of education, the bill would also have made the superintendent the board’s chair and required vacancy appointments made by the governor subject to confirmation by the legislature.