ROCKINGHAM — For the second day in a row, the man who wants to be North Carolina’s next governor met with teachers to hear their thoughts and concerns about how the state can improve education.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, whose mother was a teacher, listened to local educators Tuesday afternoon at Pattan’s Downtown Grille prior to a campaign event.
“There are no magic answers,” Cooper told the small group, adding that it takes vision and leadership on the state government level to help things improve. “Education needs to be a priority.”
One of the first complaints Cooper heard was that there is too much testing.
Blaine Maples, who lives in Richmond County but teaches in Anson, said teachers were afraid to go outside of the box because of testing, having to stick to the “script.”
The group seemed to be in consensus that everyone learns in different ways and current testing doesn’t allow for that.
“I’ve heard this a lot from teachers and parents who are concerned,” Cooper said, before asking for examples of alternatives to the current method.
One of the instructors said a good start would be to start trusting the teachers, and not using a sole exam as a way to evaluate teacher performance.
“Just because they pass the test, doesn’t mean they know the material,” Maples said. “There are other ways out there.”
The teachers also said different family and social situations in rural versus suburban school districts are another reason to scrap the current system.
Teacher recruitment and retention was another big issue. North Carolina is recruiting a lot of teachers from out of state, who get their experience and then move on.
Cooper asked if he was elected and could make changes, what could he do to make the profession more attractive.
Richmond County Schools Superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman listed off several issues, including pay raises, stopping school labeling and not even letting “the conversation go to taking away benefits.”
The group also brought up re-instituting the Teaching Fellows program, where college students got a full scholarship as long as they agreed to teach in-state for four years.
Cooper said he was on the first interview committee for the program and said those coming through were some of the best students.
The Democratic gubernatorial hopeful also said he was against taking money away from public schools via school vouchers.
“Some people justify that private school vouchers can increase competition with public schools and make public schools better,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. It’s siphoning off money that could be used for teacher raises in our public schools.
“I think it’s important that we make sure that students succeed and that we measure that success, but we have to attract and retain good teachers,” he added. “Right now, a lot of students are discouraged from getting into the teaching profession because, not only are the governor and legislative leaders not paying them enough, there’s lack of respect. And I think you heard that a lot in the room today, is wanting state government leaders to respect these teachers for what they do.”
Cooper held a similar meeting with teachers in Charlotte on Monday.
Former Rockingham mayor and state senator Gene McLaurin, who has been helping Cooper during his campaign, said North Carolina “needs another education governor” and “someone to stand up to the General Assembly and say, ‘This is not right for North Carolina.’”
Cooper will face Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Libertarian Lon Cecil, a retired electrical engineer, on the ballot in November.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.