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NEWS RELEASES 2001-02 :: FEBRUARY 15, 2002

Reid Hartzoge


RALEIGH: Gov. Mike Easley and the North Carolina Education Cabinet today released the First in America Progress Report showing the state improving in student performance, safe schools, and community support. The state maintained its grades in the areas of child readiness and quality teachers and administrators.

"This Report Card shows that we are making consistent and important progress in public education," said Easley, chair of the Education Cabinet. "However, while we are headed in the right direction, we still have a lot of work to do in order to develop a superior system of education. And as we stare down a $900 million shortfall, I refuse to let tough economic times stand in the way of our commitment to education and to the children, families and communities across North Carolina.

"We cannot attract the jobs we want in North Carolina by building an education system that is in the middle of the pack. The real rewards will only come to those states who are leaders in education."

The First in America findings are consistent with recent reports from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the National Education Goals Panel, and Education Week that indicate that North Carolina is among the national leaders in improving student performance, closing the achievement gap, and raising teacher quality.

Since taking office, Easley has implemented More at Four, a high quality pre-kindergarten program for at-risk four-year-olds, reduced class sizes in grades K-3, established teacher recruitment and retention initiatives, and increased need-based financial aid for students attending North Carolina's colleges and universities.

"The First in America Progress Report reflects other news we have received of late on our public schools," said Phil Kirk, Chairman of the State Board of Education, and Mike Ward, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. "Recent state and national reports show us leading the nation in educational progress and moving in the right direction on key indicators such as the achievement gap and teacher quality. While we are not satisfied, this Report is further evidence that we are achieving the gains it will take to make our schools the best in the nation."

"This second progress report demonstrates that North Carolina's education community is making important headway toward our collective goal of having the best public schools in America," said Molly Broad, President of the University of North Carolina system.

"Using feedback provided by the First in America report and other sources as important guides, the entire University of North Carolina will continue the significant efforts already under way to expand the recruitment, training, and professional development of high-quality K-12 educators. Given the clear and direct linkage between teacher quality and student performance, this must remain one of our highest priorities."

"We can be proud of the progress being made in North Carolina's Public Schools," remarked Martin Lancaster, President of the NC Community College System. "The North Carolina Community College System is delighted that we have been able to contribute to this progress and remain committed to this effort."

"Progress is key to reaching our goal by 2010," said Hope Williams, President of NC Independent Colleges and Universities. "I believe the progress we are making shows the importance and value of having all sectors of education in the state, plus the business and volunteer communities, working together to help students and schools be successful."

The First in America Progress Report, first proposed by former Gov. Jim Hunt, is an initiative of the Education Cabinet, which is chaired by the Governor. The Progress Report grades the state in five major areas. Grades are derived from the state's progress on indicators. There is a target goal for each indicator that reflects national leadership in those areas. Indicators and graded areas have been defined by the Education Cabinet and include a variety of cross-state data, as well as North Carolina-only data, that tracks the state's progress towards becoming the leading state in public education by 2010.

A comparison of the 2000 and 2001 grades follows:

High Student Performance C C+
Every Child Ready to Learn C+ C+
Safe, Orderly and Caring Schools C+ B-
Quality Teacher and Administrators B- B-
Strong Family, Business and Community Support B- B

Another recent state-by-state report card supports the Progress Report's findings. In its annual
Quality Counts release, Education Week, the K-12 education newspaper of record, gave North Carolina a B+ in Teacher Quality, a B+ on our Standards and Accountability system, and a C on educational Resources.

For more information on the First in America Progress Report, please contact Dr. Charles Thompson, director of the Education Research Council at 919.962.8373.

Comments from State Superintendent Mike Ward and State Board of Education Chairman Phil Kirk

First in America by 2010
2002 Report

We're pleased with the steady progress demonstrated by this year's First in America report. These indicators confirm that we have set the right course to improve our schools and are achieving the gains it will take to make our schools the best in the nation.

It's especially good to see increases in parent perceptions about how schools care for their children and how welcomed they feel at schools. These climate ratings tie in with Carolina Poll results that also show positive views about schools.

Our top rating in the country on teacher quality from the Quality Counts' report is confirmed in the First in America 2002 report card. Teacher quality is high but we have to do more to keep good teachers in the classroom. Every student deserves the highest quality teacher we can employ.

Teacher shortages, dropouts and the poor state of many facilities are all problems that we are keenly aware of and that are on the minds of school administrators. None of these has easy or cheap fixes.

Improvements in the perceptions about schools are very important. These results confirm the Carolina Poll survey results showing that parents have positive views about our schools. We believe this ties in directly with the findings that teachers are doing a better job communicating with parents and parents are more involved with their children.

North Carolinians should be proud of our schools. The challenge is to maintain our momentum, even in tight budget times. The State Board and Department will continue to focus on high standards and intervention to help students reach higher levels of achievement. We welcome the community's support of these efforts.

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.