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Congratulations!  You won your primary.  Now it is time to make sure that your education talking points are shipshape.  In this week’s CommenTerry, I review three important topics in education policy — graduation rates, teacher pay, and per-pupil expenditures.

Bulletin Board

  • The Civitas campaign training program is focused on giving participants the knowledge and practical skills they will need to build a winning campaign from the ground up. Whether you are interested in managing a campaign, running for office, or simply how campaigns work, the class will lay the groundwork for an effective campaign strategy.  The training session will be held on May 17 from 1:00 to 6:00 PM at the Brownstone Doubletree Hotel in downtown Raleigh.  To register, click here.
  • The North Carolina History Project would like educators and homeschool parents to submit lesson plans suitable for middle and high school courses in North Carolina history.  Please provide links to NC History Project encyclopedia articles and other primary and secondary source material, if possible.  Go to the NC History Project website for further information.
  • JLF’s research newsletter archive rates high on the scale of awesome.


Let’s jump right in!

Graduation and dropout rates

I do not advise comparing dropout and graduation rates.  The dropout rate is an annual figure, whereas the four-year (also called an on time or cohort) graduation rate is a cumulative statistic.  As such, the remainder of the graduation rate is not the dropout rate.  For example, North Carolina’s four-year graduation rate was 77.9 percent last year. That does not mean that the state’s dropout rate was 22.1 percent.  Rather, 22.1 percent of students who started ninth-grade in 2007 did not graduate in 2011.

The following scenarios may explain why dropout and graduate rate comparisons are problematic.  A high school student counted as a dropout during one or more school years can still graduate on time by returning to the public school system and completing credit recovery courses until he or she reaches the equivalent grade level of the cohort. Similarly, a student who did not graduate on time may not have dropped out at any point in his or her high school career.  Rather, he or she may have failed required courses (or not completed course requirements) needed to graduate with his or her class.

A case could be made that the 22.1 percent of high school students who did not graduate high school in four years represents a "failure" rate or "non-completer" rate.  Call it anything but the dropout rate.

Teacher pay

Between 2005 and 2009, the John Locke Foundation published four teacher pay studies.  It is 2012.  The data used in those reports is out of date.  My wife gets better with age.  The teacher pay reports do not.

We have been unable to publish a teacher pay study since 2009 because the U.S. Department of Education did not publish updated teacher experience figures from the most recent School and Staffing Survey.  Those figures were released in late 2011, so JLF will likely publish an updated teacher pay report soon.  Thank you for your patience.

According to the latest National Education Association (NEA) figures, North Carolina ranks 44th in teacher pay.  However, there is only a $7 per year difference between average teacher pay in North Carolina and 43rd-ranked Tennessee.  In effect, the two states are tied for 43rd in the ranking; the standard deviation erases the difference.  Regardless, the NEA’s teacher pay ranking for North Carolina is consistent with their per-pupil expenditure ranking for the state (see below).

NEA researchers determined that North Carolina was one of two states (the other being South Dakota) to have no change in average teacher salary between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.  During this period, five states had teacher salary decreases and five others had salary growth of less than one percent.

Per-pupil expenditure

According to Rankings of the States 2011 and Estimates of School Statistics 2012, an annual publication of the National Education Association (NEA), North Carolina ranks 42nd in total per-pupil expenditure (state, local, and federal funding) for the 2011-2012 school year. The 2011-2012 ranking is higher than the state’s rankings for the 2010-2011 (45th) and 2009-2010 (43rd) school years.

Later this year, state education agencies will release per-pupil spending figures based on actual public school district expenditures and student counts for the 2011-2012 school year.  Until then, the NEA’s Rankings and Estimates publication is the best resource available.

Random Thought

Apparently, I am the only person in America that hasn’t seen "The Avengers."

Facts and Stats

During the 2011-2012 school year, North Carolina public school districts employed nearly 94,000 teachers.  Districts averaged one teacher for every 14.6 students.


I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina.  I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter.  Anonymity will be honored.  For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].

Education Acronym of the Week

EDDIE — Educational Directory & Demographical Information Exchange

Quote of the Week

"It is not acceptable for North Carolina to lose so many young people before they graduate from high school. The cost to these young men and women and their families is high. The cost is financial, but it is greater than that. The heaviest cost of all is the loss of human accomplishment, of happiness, and of satisfaction.

We must send one clear message to our young people: Graduate."

– NC Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson introducing The Message: Graduate! initiative.

Click here for the Education Update archive.