It’s time for new and different ideas


It’s the season for new ideas. Besides campaigning, this is the time of year when legislators start to craft the bills that we will introduce in January 2015. As a former educator, I’ve been working on some education ideas that both Republicans and Democrats could support and which either wouldn’t cost a dime or could be paid for by reallocating existing funds. Here are three of those ideas.

Testing that helps

Students, parents and teachers all seem fed up with standardized testing. It seems like every year there are more tests given and less time available for actual teaching and learning.

While I think that it’s useful to have some standardized measures of achievement, the testing system we use now lacks some basic credibility because it’s not designed for the people who need it most: students and those who support them.

Think about it; the information that we get from current standardized testing is designed for school leaders, politicians and state bureaucrats. The tests tell us how many kids are passing and failing, which schools perform better than others, etc.

Unfortunately, none of the tests provide any meaningful information that actually identifies areas where a student succeeds or struggles. Testing technology exists that could give us pass and fail rates along with individualized feedback for every student. If parents, students and teachers got information back that they could actually use, they would probably support the use of testing a lot more than they do now.

Public and charter school collaboration

Our state’s charter school law sets up a competitive dynamic between charter and public schools. Although some people may like that competition, the original idea for charters was that they would be teaching laboratories, and their best innovations would be adopted by regular public schools. Unfortunately, that almost never happens because of the competitive divide.

The competition is built into how North Carolina measures charter school success against public school success when student performance data is released. Simply put, charters that outperform their local public schools make the public schools look bad, so public schools try not to help the charters.

Imagine an alternative where a public schools system actually helps a charter school to open in their area and serve a group of students who haven’t been doing well in the traditional public schools. Further, imagine that it works, and those previously struggling students actually start doing better in the new school environment.

A small change in state law could allow both the system and the school to take credit for student achievement data. This creates a win-win situation where both parties get to celebrate and the schools are more focused on helping students rather than fighting over resources. 

Career-technical education for coding

In the last century, the economy ran on engines, and we always needed people who knew how to work on them. If you got trained how to repair an engine while you were in high school, you could pretty much be guaranteed work for the rest of your life as long as you kept up on the latest technological changes to whatever type of engine you worked on.

In today’s world, the equivalent of a mechanic is a programmer. The new economy runs on computers and the Internet, and code is the engine that makes that economy move. U.S. technology companies need way more programmers than are currently trained, and they don’t care if you have a college degree. You just have to know how to write the type of code they use.

Since we know workers are needed in this area, why don’t we start training kids to code in high school—or earlier? One tech company in Durham told me that if an 18 year-old high school graduate walked in today with adequate coding skills, they could have a job that pays $40,000 a year with benefits, and they could be making close to $100,000 in just a few years.

Our high schools still need to produce mechanics and other skilled trades. Why not add this skilled trade to our career and technical education programs? Imagine some young person you know who seems more interested in playing video games than going to college; maybe this is the career for them.

This column was originally published in Graig’s monthly column in the News of Orange.