The first NC Women’s Summit took place on October 15th, 2013, at UNC-Chapel Hill as a joint collaboration of Women AdvaNCe and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-CH. Women from across the state joined together to discuss what’s at stake for North Carolina women and families.
BY MARY PARRY Education is on the minds of women in North Carolina. We care about teachers. We know that quality public schools and universities improve our state’s bottom line. To that end, concerned citizens from counties across the state gathered last Tuesday to hear from women scholars and non-profit organization leaders about what’s happening to public education– and what, exactly, we can do about it.
Dr. Suzanne Gulledge of UNC’s Education Department started the conversation by challenging the viewpoint that public education is broken. Duke’s Dr. Helen Ladd was quick to chime in: “Public education in North Carolina is very much under attack. Nationally, we were 24th in teacher salary. Now we’re 48th. And we’re 46th in per pupil spending– that’s less than all of the states surrounding us.” Ladd says that North Carolina’s newest education legislation will undermine our ability to attract good teachers.
Panelist Gina Moretto Wright agreed. Her family urged her not to go back into classroom teaching after earning a master’s degree in Education Technology, due to the amount of stress she felt and the lack of support teachers receive. She now serves as the Legislative Liaison for the Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers.
Corporate interests get prioritized ahead of North Carolina’s students, according to Karey Harwood, Executive Director of Public Schools 1st NC. Harwood says that the appeal of “school choice” distracts parents from the fact that the deck has been stacked against them. “Vouchers have moved $12 million away from public education funding,” Harwood said. While our public schools receive less funding, new performance requirements force public schools to teach to the test. Harwood says that private schools aren’t being held to the same standard.
Charter schools also water down the public education system, says Diane Morris, founder of Dynamic Community Charter School in Cary. “Most charter schools are designed to serve a specific, privileged community. Many are run by companies, which must report to shareholders. They rob our public schools of funding and support.” While Morris’ charter school was founded to meet the needs of special needs students, most charter schools accept very few high-risk students. For public schools, turning students away isn’t an option, even when funding for exceptional students is capped below enrollment.
The defunding of pre-K programs and our public universities seriously concerned the summit’s panelists and attendees. Ginger Young, Executive Director of Book Harvest, pointed to facts that highlight the need for early childhood intervention. “Low-income kids enter Kindergarten having heard only 13 million words. Other students enter Kindergarten having heard 45 million words. That’s a 32 million word gap.” Leveling the playing field during these early years helps all students achieve, since teachers are stretched thin when serving students with such different educational needs.
In order to save our state’s public education system, panelists encouraged attendees to stay informed and help others do the same: “People don’t know these facts,” said Morris. “Some of this stuff that’s happening is just crazy. Let’s do something about it.”
Here are a few other ways panelists suggested taking action:
- Prioritize these issues by writing letters to your legislators and to the editors of your newspapers;
- Use social media to share what you learn and help others engage;
- Join the organizations that are leading the way in speaking up for public education;
- Start your own AdvaNCe Team. Follow Women AdvaNCe with your friends and meet monthly to take action together.
Consider speaking up for students and teachers, schools and universities across this state. Write your letters and share your knowledge. Say it with swagger: “Don’t mess with education.” Women make up 54% of the electorate. Together we have a powerful voice.
NC Women’s Summit – Education Panelists
Dr. Suzanne Gulledge, Clinical Professor of Middle Grades Education at UNC
Dr. Helen Ladd, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University
Ginger Young, E.D., Book Harvest
Gina Moretto Wright, Legislative Liaison at Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers
Karey Harwood, Executive Director Public Schools 1st NC
Diane Morris, Founder Dynamic Community Charter School