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North Carolinians can be thankful for strong urban school districts and for a slate of state programs that are already under way to continue school improvement, according to the second annual report card on education in the nation's 50 states. The report, released today by Education Week magazine and the Pew Charitable Trusts, cites North Carolina as one of the states that improved most on national assessments and one of only four states to earn an A on standards and assessments.

This year, the 270-page Quality Counts '98: The Urban Challenge, Public Education in the 50 States focused on urban districts nationwide, and also updated the state report cards first released last year. The report cards graded four areas: standards and assessments, quality of teaching, school climate and resources (funding). North Carolina only has one urban district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, as defined in Quality Counts. That definition is "a district in which 75 percent or more of the households served are in the central city of a metropolitan area."

Only four states - North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Massachusetts - earned an A on standards and assessments. North Carolina also was mentioned in the Quality Counts report as one of a handful of states that posted marked improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. North Carolina received a C+ for quality of teaching, but only seven states bested that grade.

In the category of resources, grades were awarded for adequacy, allocation and equity. North Carolina received a C+ for adequacy, a B for equity and a C for allocation.

On school climate, nearly all states continue to struggle. North Carolina was no exception, earning a D, which was the most frequently awarded grade in that category. North Carolina schools tend to be large which, along with class size figures and parent involvement survey results, hurt the state's grade in this category.

Because the focus of this year's Quality Counts is urban schools, a large segment of the report concerns this topic. Unlike other states, North Carolina urban districts overall perform better on achievement measures than their non-urban counterparts. Editors at Education Week noted that North Carolina is unusual because its cities are thriving without the severe problems so common in urban areas nationally. Still, the report notes that challenges are mounting in the more urban areas of the state. Higher costs, increasing and larger populations of poor children and special needs students, infrastructure needs, as well as economic changes, could cause more severe problems in the future.

State Superintendent Mike Ward said, "This report shows that we are continuing to make strong progress in North Carolina. I am pleased that we earned an A for the second year in standards and assessments. This shows that we are continuing to concentrate our efforts in this area. And, while our grades did not show it this year, I know that we are making progress regarding school climate and the quality of teaching." The ABCs of Public Education, now in its second year statewide, has a strong emphasis on standards and assessments.

Funds from the state's $1.8 billion school bond issue began flowing to school districts in 1997 to enable them to build new schools and improve existing ones. Better facilities will have an impact on school climate in the future.

The Excellent Schools Act, approved in 1997 by the General Assembly, will help to improve the state's teacher corps by boosting salaries, requiring higher standards for tenured teachers, paying teachers more for advanced degrees and certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and providing better support to new teachers, among other measures in the law.

State Board of Education Chairman Philip J. Kirk Jr. said he welcomed the good news and the challenges that are presented in Quality Counts. "North Carolina is moving forward, but we know there are areas that continue to need attention. Urban districts, as our state grows, will need additional attention. Teaching quality and school climate are receiving a greater emphasis now. North Carolina is a prosperous state filled with people who want good schools. There is every reason to expect our schools to get better and better."

The full Quality Counts report can be found at

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.