Earlier this month Senate Bill 14 was signed into law by Governor McCrory. This piece of legislation makes it clear that in North Carolina the primary purpose of education is to prepare students for work. How else can we interpret the following passage from the bill: "The State Board of Education, in collaboration with the State Board of Community Colleges, shall develop strategies to increase the number of high school students engaging in career and technical education, especially in the areas of engineering and industrial technologies, and in other occupations with high numbers of employment opportunities." Additionally, North Carolina's future high school graduates will receive a diploma that specifically tracks them with a college, career, or college and career endorsement.
Why is all this necessary? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the economic troubles that faced our state in the past five years? For all practical purposes this bill takes us back to a school system that used to track students by ability levels. How else can we interpret the state legislature's and governor's decisions to create a distinction between students who satisfactorily completed college preparatory classes, vocational classes, or both? Why does a high school diploma have to distinguish between these three categories? Why isn't it enough for the students' transcripts to show which path they are qualified to take after graduation? What possible purpose does this exercise serve?
North Carolina's schools have been working hard in recent years to eliminate the achievement gap. Our efforts have met with mixed results but there have certainly been some incremental improvements over the past decade. Senate Bill 14 now establishes a clear demarcation between various groups of students - and we can expect that these groups will likely fall along racial lines.
The residents of North Carolina expect their elected leaders to make public school education a priority. They do not, however, expect them to distinguish between those who seek a college track and those who do not. Doing so simply takes us back to a part of our history that smacked of discrimination and low expectations for children from economically deprived and minority families. There are many ways to improve both our state's economy and education system. Tracking our students is not one of them.