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NEWS RELEASES 1996-97 :: JANUARY 16, 1997


A first-ever report card on education in the nation's 50 states was released today by Education Week magazine and the Pew Charitable Trusts. In it, North Carolina was cited as one of a dozen states posting the highest marks.

The 240-page Quality Counts: A Report Card on the Condition of Public Education in the 50 States gives six letter grades, report-card style, in four basic areas: academic standards and assessments; quality of teaching; school climate and funding resources, for which three separate grades are offered.

North Carolina bested or equaled the states' averages in five of the six areas graded, earning its highest mark, an A in standards and assessments; and lowest, a D, in school climate. In quality of teaching, the state earned a C. Under financial resources, North Carolina got a B- for adequacy of funding, an A- for equity of funding, and a C+ for funding allocation.

State Superintendent Mike Ward said, "We are extremely pleased to achieve an A in standards and assessments, an area that we have concentrated on and where we continue to put a lot of emphasis." Standards is one of the linchpins of the state's latest reform initiative, The ABCs of Public Education. That plan, which is now operational in all 117 school districts, is based on accountability for student achievement, including standards; an emphasis on teaching the basics; and placing more control of schools at the local level.

The Superintendent didn't back away from some needed improvements. "While the report points to progress we are making in our state's educational system, there is still significant room for improvement, especially in the two areas of school climate and quality of teaching."

Ward continued, "The Quality Counts report does support what we are trying to accomplish in education in our state. It says, and we agree, that in North Carolina, if we can be faulted with anything, it's with trying too hard to improve our schools. The report notes that the start-and-stop history of reform in our state has hindered us, and that we have to give one reform initiative enough time to work."

Ward praised the Governor for his emphasis on improving teaching and schools. He also credited the NC General Assembly for the state receiving high marks in its funding effort.

Many states received their lowest grade on school climate, a C on average. Only four states received a B. One national finding, for instance, showed that nearly half the students in most states attend elementary or high schools that are bigger than research suggests is optimal to promote learning.

The school climate grade took into account such factors as the number of students in classes and in schools, both of which Ward said are already being addressed in North Carolina's recently approved $1.8 billion bond referendum to renovate existing schools and build new facilities. For the report, school climate also included school safety, which is being addressed through North Carolina's Safe Schools initiative; site-based management; absenteeism; student apathy and parent support.

North Carolina was in line with other states' performance on the issue of quality of teaching: earning a C. No state earned an A, and only eight earned Bs.

The State Board of Education in recent months has been researching the number and rate at which teachers are leaving the profession. This issue is critical to school improvement in both North Carolina and the nation, according to Quality Counts.

Both the Board and Ward say that attracting and retaining good teachers will remain a priority. Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., recently re-elected, has promised to work to raise teachers' salaries in the state to the national average by the year 2000.

"When we have adequately addressed these issues, the quality of teaching will improve," Ward noted. "Meanwhile, we can't overlook the fact that thousands of outstanding teachers are doing an excellent job in our classrooms every single day."

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.