State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison recently said North Carolina’s education system “has a responsibility for all children in our state, not just the nearly 1.5 million in public schools.”
His statement followed news of our state’s “four-year cohort” graduation rate reaching 80 percent for the first time. But while some have celebrated, note that the number of low-income students passing end-of-grade tests remained flat at 54 percent, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. Just as alarming, the achievement gap between poor students and their wealthier peers on these tests increased, according to DPI.
The results are just as worrisome in Wake County, where the end-of-grade achievement gap is at 36 percentage points. Only 51 percent of low-income students passed these tests last year compared with 87 percent of their wealthier peers, according to DPI.
Moreover, we cannot ignore recent findings for students pursuing a college education. Remediation figures show that the percentage of students having to repeat English, reading or math in our community colleges following high school increased from 57 percent in 2007-08 to 65 percent in 2010-11, according to the state community college system. This cost more than $80 million last year.
Who doesn’t want to applaud high graduation rates in our traditional public schools? We all do! However, once you dig into the numbers, one central question emerges: How do we ensure that graduation rates accurately reflect the quality of education that all of our traditional public school students receive, instead of the number who make it across the K-12 finish line?
The answer: Embrace the symbiotic relationship that already exists between our traditional and nontraditional schools (public charter, private and home schools).
In this collaborative relationship, families are able to choose the best school for their child, regardless of income or ZIP code. And all students are learning in classrooms best suited for them – which leaves them better prepared to complete the K-12 system without having to repeat it in college.
The unfortunate truth is that student performance numbers reveal two North Carolinas – one defined by graduation rate and the other showing increased end-of-grade achievement gaps and growing college remediation numbers.
However, test scores reveal that students are better able to produce results when their parents can choose the ideal schools for them. Both public charter and private schools have grown in North Carolina because they can more easily adapt their teaching styles and curriculum to a student’s academic needs.
In 2011-12, 66 percent of North Carolina’s public charter schools met all of their performance goals, compared with 46 percent of traditional schools, according to DPI. In addition, a national study found that on average, 63 percent of private school students who took the ACT met or surpassed the test’s college readiness benchmark scores, compared with 46 percent of traditional students.
The idea here is not to promote one educational model over another, but to show that it takes more than one type of school to provide a high-quality education to every student.
Embracing a symbiotic relationship between educational models will help our state establish a system in which every student is learning. It’s one thing to praise the number of students finishing high school, but before we give Johnny a diploma, let’s make sure he can comprehend the words on it.
Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina ( pefnc.org).