North State Journal spoke to four of the major players in guiding North Carolina’s education policy. North State Journal: What excites you about the state of education in N.C.?Dan Forest: For the past several years I’ve been working on the digital learning plan for N.C. Our state is really positioned better than any other state in the country to bridge the educational divide for the first time in the history, really of the world. Soon, we will be first state in the nation to have every classroom connected to high speed internet.What that really means is that students who have never had hope in education before, now in real time, sitting in their classroom, with a device in their hands – they’re connected to the best teachers, best customized content and curriculum in the world. And that’s a big bright spot. It’s just a tool, but it’s a tool that we need to be able to compete in the world.NSJ: What are some of the challenges we still face?DF: Giving parents choice in their children’s education. We’ve been in this cycle for decades now, if not a century, where everyone in government tells you that only the government knows what’s best for your kid. Only the government can tell you where your child should go to school or the kind of education they should get, or the kind of curriculum. That’s a bunch of hogwash. The reality is that parents should be able to make those decisions for their students and Education Savings Accounts, Opportunity Scholarships, charter schools, all provide that extra level of security to parents.We are starting to see for the first time is this communication and a level of cooperation with these innovative programs. We are seeing that the lack of the bureaucracy at charter schools is actually a freeing thing to the school, to the children, to the teachers. Why should teachers in traditional public schools not be free to innovate, be inventive in the classroom and have fun again?They’re burdened by the latest set of standards, new sets of testing that go along with them. They are burdened by whatever mandates are coming from the federal government or DPI (Department of Public Instruction) that tells them to do everything but their job because the government wants to collect all this data. For what? They only data we need is that our kids are proficient enough at what they’re doing to move onto college and move on to life.NSJ: What is the next hurdle?DF: We need to change the way we look at moving kids through the system because all students learn in a different way. We’ve been able, as a homeschool family, to customize the content and curriculum for them. Why should we not be able to do that for all students? Moving away from the seat-based, time-based grade-based progression system that we’ve been doing forever in N.C. to a competency-based system allows those students who can move more quickly in a subject to do so, and allows those students who need a little more time to do that as well.Technology allows us to begin to do that because now there is content being developed that takes some of that pressure off of the teacher and puts it into the technology. Teachers are able to make assessments more quickly on a daily basis and customize each child’s education to allow them to learn how they do best.
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