Public School Forum’s Top 10 Education Issues Focus on Educational Equity, Reflect Pathways Priorities

Educational equity was front and center at last week’s Public School Forum Eggs & Issues breakfast. Forum President and Executive Director Keith Poston and Senior Director of Policy Lauren Fox shared the top ten education issues of 2019. Every issue was presented with an equity lens. The strategies proposed to meet the highlighted needs also reflect many of the actions in the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework to improve early literacy using a whole child, birth through age eight approach.

The theme of this year’s Top 10 is public schools for the public good. The Top 10 issues range widely, from rural North Carolina’s unique education challenges to school funding, and from teacher recruitment and retention to high equality early childhood education. Equity – and particularly racial equity – serves as a common thread throughout the issues chosen and the strategies proposed. As Lauren Fox said, “Racial inequity spans across multiple topics in this year’s Top 10, and it is one of the biggest issues that face our state today.”

One issue – Directly Address Persistent Racial Inequities in North Carolina’s Schools – highlights the trend towards re-segregation of North Carolina’s schools, as well as racial disparities in discipline and advanced course enrollment. Equity is highlighted in other issues as well, including the need for:

  • Equity in school funding
  • High quality teachers and principals in high-need schools
  • Equity in testing and assessment
  • Positive school climates to create optimal learning environments for all students
  • Addressing trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Equitable access to high quality early education

The Top 10 also proposes equity strategies to improve students’ outcomes in these areas, and many of them reflect actions from the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Action Framework, including:

  • Target teacher recruitment and retention efforts to benefit high-need students.
  • Invest in ongoing teacher training to foster racial equity, including in culturally-responsive pedagogy, restorative justice and implicit bias training.
  • Create effective pathways to promoting greater diversity in our teacher pipeline.
  • Commit to creating and sustaining integrated schools and classrooms.
  • Prioritize adequacy and equity in all efforts to reshape North Carolina’s school finance system.
  • Create multiple forms of assessment to measure student, teacher, and school success.
  • Invest in support staff such as social workers, psychologists and counselors.
  • Equip principals to respond to student needs including physical and mental health, and the impacts of living in poverty and/or with trauma.
  • Increase funding for and access to school-based mental health supports.
  • Reduce suspensions and expulsions.
  • Invest in training for trauma-sensitive schools and classrooms.
  • Expand access to early childhood education.

A panel discussion followed the presentation of the Top 10. The theme of educational equity continued in the conversation. For example, panelists discussed the need for professional development for teachers and principals on ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), trauma, and implicit bias to build better relationships between students and educators and greater connections with the community. According to Freebird McKinney, 2018 Teacher of the Year, “Teachers are craving that next level of professional development.”

Panelists included:

  • Beth Embree, 2018-19 NC School Counselor of the Year
  • Freebird McKinney, 2018 NC Teacher of the Year
  • Tabari Wallace, 2018 NC Principal of the Year
  • Alexa Jimenez Escribano, a student at Heritage High School in Wake Forest, named one of UNC’s 20 Under 20: Leaders Uplifting Latinx Communities across North Carolina