The plight of our poor-performing schools

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 2, 2024

By Renee Coates Scheidt

In his column on April 18, Dr. Francis Koster blames the N.C. Legislature for our state school system’s poor performance. He lists the following reasons for doing so: low state funding per student, lack of security, older buildings and too few nurses. He also cites the need to hire quality teachers and retain them. Is he correct in holding our politicians accountable for our schools’ inadequate showings?

N.C. ranks 43rd nationally in per-pupil funding. While it is embarrassing to be at the bottom of the barrel, does this cause learning failures? No one disputes having more money is a plus. But it is erroneous to think throwing increased funds at the problem will solve it. If this were true, states that spend the most on public education would be at the top of the rankings.

Statistics show this isn’t the case. N.C. currently spends more per student than at any time in our history, yet scores are far from what they should be and what they used to be. If money would solve the problem, you would think we would see some improvement.

No parent or child should have to worry that schools are unsafe. With a total of 67 shootings, N.C. ranks 9th in the nation ( Guns, which have always been a part of our society, are not the problem. The decline of public morals, ethics and honesty is at fault. Mass school shootings can be prevented. Schools can be secure when appropriate strategies are implemented. Our leaders should give this matter immediate attention.

I take exception to Dr. Koster’s point that quality school buildings are of paramount importance for student learning. Throughout our history, exceptional learning took place in buildings far from ideal. Sure, everyone likes a modern building. But the old log cabin schools of years ago produced some of our greatest intellectuals.

In 2020, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board voted unanimously to close Faith school, despite the fact that its students scored in the top 50 percent of N.C. elementary schools. When Faith Academy Charter School acquired the dilapidated building, student scores went even higher. ranks it as No. 553 out of 1,502 schools. Not bad for learning in an old building the school board closed!

Conversely, Koontz Elementary School students rank No. 1,484 out of 1,502 N.C. schools. Built in 2005, this building, less than 20 years old, isn’t making a difference in student achievement.

School nurses are a great addition to schools, but is hiring more of them required for better learning? Isn’t that why we have the doctors’ offices, urgent care and the Rowan County Health Center?  

Dr. Koster is correct regarding the necessity of hiring quality teachers and keeping them. They are the foundation of classroom education. Here, money talks loudly. tells us the average N.C. Public School teacher salary is $55,629. This puts N.C. in 47th place among the states (World Population Review). Is it any wonder we have trouble hiring and then losing teachers? The grass is greener most everywhere else.

We entrust our children to a teacher’s care seven hours a day, five days a week. What could be more important than having knowledgeable, skilled teachers dedicated to the children’s best interests? If teaching is such a noble profession, why don’t we pay them like we believe it? If you want to dance, you gotta pay the piper. Based on salaries, N.C. doesn’t care very much about dancing.

My daughter has been a public school teacher since 2006. I know the time, money and sacrifices she makes to do an exceptional job. As many teachers do, she considers her work more than just a job. It is a calling. Why else would they dedicate themselves to helping students prepare for life’s challenges when there are plenty of places where they could make more money and not suffer the frustration of dealing with difficult children?

The real answer to having effective schools starts before the child enters the building.

Statistics reveal that homes where both parents are actively engaged in the child’s life do better than those raised in fatherless homes. That’s a challenge even the best, highest paid teachers grapple with. Get the home right and the schools will follow.

Renee Scheidt lives in Salisbury.