RALEIGH — Two new studies from the North Carolina Education Alliance shed light on the state’s national ranking in teacher compensation and differences among state school districts in student performance. Both written by Sherri Joyner, a policy analyst with the NCEA, the reports are intended to provide “valuable and helpful information to North Carolina lawmakers, educators, parents, and taxpayers,” said Lindalyn Kakadelis, NCEA’s director and a former teacher and school board member.
In “Ranking 2002 Teacher Pay,” the NCEA provides a national ranking of teacher compensation based on reported salaries, retirement contributions, and state differences in cost-of-living. A follow-up to previous NCEA research on the subject, the new report ranks North Carolina 13th in average teacher compensation at $48,321 — far above the national average of $45,239.
Past NCEA research found that, when correctly measured, North Carolina teacher compensation has exceeded the national average for many years, including the period prior to passage of a billion-dollar package of teacher pay increases in the mid-1990s.
“None of this is to suggest that we don’t have underpaid teachers in our schools, and that improving compensation for our best teachers isn’t important,” Kakadelis said. “But the citizens of North Carolina deserve accurate information and a broader discussion of alternatives, including merit pay based on the performance of individual teachers, than they have received to date.”
The other report, “Grading Our Schools 2001,” is the latest in a series of NCEA research that assigns letter grades to North Carolina school districts based on student performance in a variety of areas. Because of problems last year in the design and scoring of the state’s end-of-grade tests, which represent the largest share of NCEA’s grading formula, the report was significantly delayed as state officials recomputed scores and district averages and NCEA researchers sought other information.
Eventually, NCEA decided to release grades based on partial information for the 2000-01 school year and then follow up later in 2002 with a timely analysis of student performance for 2001-02.
“The serious problems with the state’s testing and accountability system have affected our own work, just as they have affected the more important task of giving parents and educators useful information with which they can address the educational needs of our students,” Kakadelis said.
The NCEA report grades all of the state’s public school districts on the basis of three variables: average performance on the state’s end-of-grade and end-of-year tests, average graduation rates for high school students, and average SAT scores for college-bound students.
Since the “Grading Our Schools” series began in 1998, most districts have posted improvements in their letter grades. In 2000-01, the new report shows, the statewide average grade rose to a C- (a 70.9 on a 100-point scale) after remaining a D or D+ in every previous report. Still, nearly half of the districts received a grade of D or F in 2000-01.
Among North Carolina’s largest urban districts, Wake County had the highest-scoring system with a B- (80.2). Other grades included a C+ for Buncombe, a C for New Hanover, a C- for Forsyth and Guilford, a D+ for Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cumberland, and a D for Durham.
“There is no doubt that North Carolina’s schools have made some gains in the past decade,” Kakadelis said. “Unfortunately, the gains remain relatively modest and leave too many students too far behind. More troubling is that the passage of complex and costly legislation such as the Excellence in Schools Act does not seem to have had a measurable impact on the rate of progress.”
The latest “Grading Our Schools” report also replicates two measures added last year: an average letter grade for all charter schools in the state operating for at least three years (they received an average grade of D for 2000-01) and a ranking of school districts on cost-effectiveness — how they perform relative to how much they spend.
“As we discovered last year, charter schools that have gotten past their start-up phase are performing just below the state average,” Kakadelis said. “That’s not high enough, of course, but the grade is higher than those of a number of school districts in the state.”
In cost-effectiveness, the highest-ranked school districts were located in the Piedmont and western counties — Davidson, Cabarrus, Watauga, Union, and Alexander counties. Among North Carolina’s largest urban districts, Buncombe (9th), Cumberland (36th), Wake (43rd), and Guilford (60th) ranked above the state average in cost-effectiveness, while New Hanover (64th), Forsyth (72nd), Durham (98th), and Charlotte-Mecklenburg (100th) were below-average.
“Educators and policymakers in North Carolina need to improve the quality of information they generate about the performance of our public schools, as well as how they communicate this information to the public,” Kakadelis said. “We believe strongly in accountability, but it has to be based on reliable and independent measures.”
Among other reforms, NCEA has advocated the replacement of the state’s flawed end-of-grade tests with an independent, nationally comparable test and the measurement of changes in individual student performance from year to year rather than annual changes in classes or grades.
The North Carolina Education Alliance is a project of the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation and has published extensively on school choice and education reform issues. Its statewide steering committee includes educators, school board members, county commissioners, business executives, and other civic leaders. For more information about these latest NCEA reports and other research on education issues, call Kakadelis at 704-231-9767 or policy analyst Karen Palasek at 919-828-3876.