Can you see the Great Wall from Space?
May 3, 2012

How many of you have heard that the Great Wall of China can be viewed by astronauts in space?

That urban myth has been disproved many times. In fact, if the Great Wall could be seen so clearly, the interstate highway system in the United States would also be visible from space. (It isn't!)

In a similar way, there are many people in North Carolina who believe that the public high school graduation rate is getting worse, even though it is not. In fact, our high school graduation rate is 77.9 percent, the best and the highest that it has ever been. And yet, many people believe hat the opposite is true. This situation was illustrated recently by the results of a Public Policy Poll that asked North Carolinians about their views on public education. Thirty-eight percent of those polled thought, mistakenly, that graduation rates are getting worse when in fact, graduation rates are getting better and better every year.

How do we help our fellow North Carolinians get the accurate information they need to even know where we are in our work to improve and strengthen our schools?

That challenge is fundamental at any time and especially during a time when education is increasingly seen as a consumer good and not always as a public good with responsibility and benefits shared by everyone. If you don't have a child in school and you don't see the good work underway every day, and if you receive most of your news from media outlets that are not very supportive of public education in general, you may believe that schools are not doing very well and you may begin to believe education's version of viewing the Great Wall of China from outer space.

I hope you will join me in countering inaccurate information about public schools. We are graduating more students and a greater percentage of students than at any time. We are serving a more diverse group of students than at any time in our state's history. More students than ever are taking and succeeding in higher level courses as measured by Advanced Placement and other college-level programs.

Too many people have failed to hear or read or see the facts about schools. Join me in helping people find accurate information to get the facts. A good starting place is online at




June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent