North Carolina’s public school leaders are touting rising scores on state tests to prove that things aren’t as bad as critics complain. “Public schools in North Carolina are working,” said Gov. Hunt in announcing results of the statewide ABC testing program for 1997-98. The governor and education leaders emphasized that 84 percent of all the state’s schools rated “Exemplary” or “Expected” in growth.
However, the current method of calculating school performance misleads the public. The emphasis on “growth” shifts attention from true student achievement to a manufactured “feel-good” measure. For example, Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in Charlotte miraculously transformed from a “Low-Performing” school last year to an “Exemplary” school this year, even though more than half its students continue to perform below grade level.
Are our children really prepared for the 21st-century global economy? As the education establishment lobbies for more money for public schools, are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?
In Grading Our Schools: Annual Report to Parents and Taxpayers on School Performance in North Carolina, the Locke Foundation proves that North Carolina has a long way to go to adequately prepare our children for the future. Rather than simply comparing us to ourselves, the report presents a comprehensive review of academic and fiscal progress at the state, national and world levels.
North Carolina does show improvement in recent years on the state’s end-of-year ABC tests, as well as improvement on tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT. However, the report clearly shows that our standards are not high enough and the rate of our academic growth must increase considerably to be competitive globally.
Without a common frame of reference – a shared sense of the magnitude of the problems that plague public education – North Carolinians will never come to agreement on what to do next. We plan to release this annual report to North Carolina parents and taxpayers each year, updating our system of letter grades for each school district as well as our account of how the state compares in a national and international context.
Here are some critical highlights from the Annual Report to Parents and Taxpayers:
Falling Behind in the World
- bullet American high school seniors rank 19th in math and 16th in science out of 21 leading nations on the most comprehensive test of international skills. And our children’s performance declines the longer they remain in school.
- bullet The United States spends more per capita and per pupil on public schools than almost any country in the world, ranking among the top two or three in various measurements.
- bulletNorth Carolina ranks very low in international comparisons, according to an analysis by the U.S. Department of Education.
North Carolina and the Nation
- Just 20 percent of our 8th graders are proficient in mathematics and 30 percent of 4th graders are proficient in reading, according to the respected NAEP test.
- The Iowa Test of Basic Skills, another respected national test given to a sample of North Carolina 5th and 8th grade students each year, shows there was no gain in academic achievement between 1997 and 1998.
- The state reported that 66.3 percent of 3-8 graders and 55 percent of 9-12 graders were at or above grade level on the state’s own ABC test, steady increases from previous years but far below most North Carolinians’ expectations of at least 90 percent of all students at grade level.
- North Carolina’s SAT score improved four points this year, however the gap between our performance and the national average has remained virtually the same over the last five years and our SAT performance remains among the worst in the nation.
- Our Advanced Placement scores for college bound students are below the national average.
- In a crisis among our state’s minority students, just 5 percent of black 8th graders are proficient on the NAEP math test and just 11 percent are proficient on the NAEP reading test while a majority of black students are below grade level on the state’s own tests.
- Three-fourths of North Carolina 10th graders are not proficient in spelling or writing mechanics, and more than 90 percent fail to meet the language usage standard.
- Social promotions are a problem, as indicated by failure rates.
- The state’s dropout rate has been rising for the last five years.
- Public school spending, adjusted for inflation, has risen 84 percent since 1981, while student enrollment has increased just 7 percent.
- The state’s bottom 10 districts in per-pupil spending score higher on ABC tests than the top 10 spending districts, while spending $2,300 less per child.
- Our teacher-pupil ratio has been dropping consistently over the last 10 years and is well below the national average.
- Enrollment in public charter, private and home schools has been rising fast.
Grading N.C. School Districts
A Locke Foundation analysis shows that more than half of all public schools in North Carolina should receive a “D” or “F” rating, with fewer than 70 percent of their students at or above grade level. Just 1 percent deserve an “A,” with at least 90 percent at or above grade level, and about one-fourth deserve an “F,” with fewer than 60 percent of students at or above grade level.
In this report we also assign a letter grade to every school district in the state and provide important data about each district relating to school performance. In our analysis only one district in the state gets an “A” grade, while 91 districts receive a grade of “D” or “F”. Interestingly, there were no districts that received a grade of “B.” Individual letter grades are also awarded for district SAT scores, NAEP and ITBS scores and graduation rates.
Despite the political cheerleading by our state’s leaders, North Carolina’s public schools face serious challenges – from within, from other states in the nation, and from international competitors. Yet our performance is not up to the level required to compete successfully. With the truth and these facts in hand, we can begin the difficult process of restructuring public education in our state.