Last updated: April 23. 2014 10:48AM - 535 Views
Rob Schofield Contributing columnist



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In case you missed it, there’s a rather important public policy battle taking place right now in North Carolina and around the country. It involves a little item commonly referred to as “the future of public education.”


Sadly, this characterization is not meant to be funny or facetious, but as a hard truth.


On one side of the debate stands a large, well-funded and increasingly powerful network of “free market think tanks,” Wall Street corporations and conservative religious groups that is bound and determined to blow up and privatize the current American model of universal, free public schools. Frequently camouflaged behind terms like “school choice” and “opportunity scholarship,” this group is doing its worst to foment public dissatisfaction, denigrate professional educators, slash funding and promote the notion that K-12 education is a “product” to be shaped and molded to meet the demands of “customers.”


And on the other side? For years, it’s been a disparate and frequently disorganized and divided collection of teachers, parents and school administrators, supplemented by a smattering of anti-poverty and civil rights advocates. Though unified on many of the basic ideas of public education (e.g. the notion that it ought to exist in the first place), this group has, like a lot of nominally “progressive” alliances, often wrestled with the challenge of fighting to improve schools without tearing them down; with fighting to preserve them without slavishly doing the bidding of flawed bureaucracies.


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Enter, happily, groups like Public School First North Carolina (PSFNC) and the very special forum its leaders have put together for Saturday May 3rd in Raleigh. The event is called “Keeping NC Public Schools Strong” and it’s a “must” for anyone – progressive, conservative or otherwise – who is seriously interested in preserving free, universal public education.


The philosophy behind the event is actually spelled out quite well in the overarching belief statement from PSFNC’s website:


“’The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.’


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And so it is that the May 3 forum will feature some of the most compelling voices in the state education policy debate, including: key state lawmakers, prominent academics, leading state and local school administrators and successful classroom teachers.


Headlining the event will be a prominent national voice, Professor David Kirp of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Kirp is a prolific and provocative thinker and author whose latest, book, “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” argues that there is a way to rebuild universal public education without first destroying it or relying upon magic bullets and miracle cures.


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Kirp is also highly critical of tactics of intimidation and a ‘no excuses’ culture for students and teachers. He also discusses at some length the cheating scandals in Washington, DC and Atlanta that many believe were the very predictable result of tying teachers’ jobs to test scores.”


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Let’s hope that many of those people find their way to Raleigh on the first Saturday in May and that the “Keeping NC Public Schools Strong” forum is just the first of many such events.


Rob Schofield is policy director for NC Policy Watch.

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