Archived Opinion

Classrooms, like the rest of us, forced to make do

For both teachers in the classroom and local administrators, this is shaping up to be the most challenging budget year in North Carolina history. At times like these, those of us who value a quality education system will be left to rely on the expertise of these professionals to do more with less. There’s simply no other option.

Last week we published a story detailing the budgetary challenges Haywood County schools will face in meeting the needs of its students as it deals with a loss of potentially $4 million. As most teacher assistants disappear, textbook money is cut drastically, and more local dollars will have to go toward buses — along with myriad other cuts — there’s just no need for hand-wringing.

Haywood Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte, discussing the state House budget proposal and what might happen locally, summed it up very matter of factly:

“I don’t think we can, in good conscience, expect the (county) commissioners to come up with revenue that they don’t have,” said Nolte. “It’s impractical, in my professional opinion, to say to our county commissioners, ‘Hey, the state cut all of this; fund it.’ There is a worldwide economic crisis, and to our knowledge, our commissioners do not have new revenues that would make up for any state cuts to any agencies.”

What it comes down to is this: teachers, already strapped for resources and perhaps overworked, will be asked to do more with less. Especially those working with young children in first, second and third grades, where teacher’s assistants are destined to be cut. Haywood has a pot of money it will use to try to keep assistants in the younger grades for at least one more year, but in many counties those assistants will disappear.

This is happening at the same time money for the More at Four pre-K program is being cut, meaning many children will enter kindergarten less prepared.

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As all the peripheral dollars are being cut, perhaps this is an opportunity for certified teachers  — those actually doing the hands-on work in the classrooms — to get more attention. Studies have shown that teachers in all those countries that perennially outscore us on all those standardized tests are treated much better than teachers in the United States. They earn more, are treated more like professionals, and more of the good ones tend to remain in the profession for longer.

For many years there has been teacher shortage in this country. That’s because it hasn’t been a career that enticed the best and the brightest. Anyone who wonders why Finland, Japan or Korea outscore us need only look at who becomes teachers in those countries. When we take the same approach, there’s little doubt many of our education problems will disappear.

Money will be tight in public education for years to come as we struggle through this recession. Perhaps it is a good time to focus on teaching and use the resources we have to entice the brightest among our college students to spend their lives in the public school classroom.

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