RALEIGH — On March 31, the North Carolina Senate passed the hugely controversial SB 387, titled the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021, by a margin of 48 senators in favor, none opposed.
The following day, the North Carolina House of Representatives took up the same SB 387, that same slapdash and extremely partisan attempt to enhance reading instruction, and voted 113-5 to approve the measure. It’s now up to Gov. Roy Cooper whether he will veto, sign, or allow this highly divisive bill to become law without his signature.
I know it sounds exceedingly odd to label the Excellent Public Schools Act as anything other than a popular, noncontroversial piece of legislation. But that’s what editorialists for the Raleigh News & Observer and WRAL-TV did a few days ago. So I figured mixing their fantastic claims with actual reality would be revealing.
“Any state effort to improve reading instruction should be bipartisan,” the N&O insisted. “It should draw heavily on the advice of educators and experts in literacy.” As for WRAL, it claimed that the bill “does not appear to be the result of a focused, transparent and through examination of reading instruction in North Carolina’s schools.”
Both editorials blasted State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt for standing next to Senate leader Phil Berger at a news conference to urge the passage of SB 387. “The science is in,” Truitt said. “The science of reading won the reading war. Phonics won.”
The two media outlets in question didn’t like that. “If Catherine Truitt seeks to be seen as the state’s education leader, the route isn’t via reflexive partisan fealty,” WRAL snarled, alleging that Truitt had chosen to “take a partisan side-seat with the leadership of the General Assembly instead of standing up for the children of North Carolina and the State Constitution.”
Here on Planet Earth, SB 387 is a bipartisan bill enacted without significant controversy by state lawmakers of both parties. It is based on decades of careful scholarly study of how best to teach young people to read. The strategies it endorses include “individual or small group instruction throughout the school year, reduced teacher-student ratios, frequent progress monitoring, tutoring in addition to the regular school day, reading camps, and extended learning time before or after the school day.”
The bill also includes signing and performance bonuses to encourage North Carolina’s best teachers to devote themselves to this high priority. And it will add better-trained teachers to the pipeline for future deployment both in elementary schools and prekindergarten programs.
Will enacting the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2021 guarantee large and immediate increases in reading scores? No, and neither Truitt nor the General Assembly has claimed otherwise. Other education bills will pass this session, ranging from teaching reforms and school-choice measures to a 2021-23 budget containing significant pay raises for teachers and other school employees.
Unlike SB 387, some of these measures may truly be controversial. They may even pass on party-line votes. The state’s left-wing editorialists and columnists will complain about that, to the diminishing few who are inclined to listen.
John Hood is a Carolina Journal columnist and author of the forthcoming novel “Mountain Folk,” a historical fantasy set during the American Revolution (MountainFolkBook.com).