First In America
Throughout the 1990s, North Carolina received national recognition for its accountability efforts and educational progress, and Governor James B. Hunt concluded that "if North Carolina can lead the nation in education progress, we can lead the nation in education, period." On Feb. 1, 1999, Governor Hunt issued a challenge in his State of the State Address: "Let's commit ourselves to this ambitious goal: By the year 2010, North Carolina will build the best system of public schools of any state in America. By the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, we will be the first in education."
The Governor realized that achieving this goal would require the dedication of all parts of the education system, and he asked his Education Cabinet to outline a set of goals to direct the initiative. The Education Cabinet formulated five major goals: high student performance; every child ready to learn; every child with access to quality child care; safe, orderly, and caring schools; quality teachers and administrators; and strong family, business, and community support. These goals are continuations of earlier goals set by the State Board of Education, the Governor, and the General Assembly. Each part of the educational system; public schools, community colleges, the university, and the independent colleges and universities; developed an action plan to achieve these goals.
The NC Education Research Council published the state's first Report Card in December of 2000. The state received a "C" for high student performance, a "B-" for having every child ready to learn, a "C+" for safe, orderly, and caring schools, a "B-" for quality teachers and administrators, and a "B-" for strong family, business, and community support. These grades reflect progress made toward performance targets derived from data that measure other states' progress toward these goals. Governor Hunt praised the state's progress and identified issues, such as the elimination of the minority achievement gap, that need to be overcome to reach the goal of being First in America by 2010.
Closing the Achievement Gap
Closing the academic achievement gap that exists between white and minority (African American, Hispanic and Native American) students is a top priority for the NC State Board of Education. At its April 2000 meeting, the State Board of Education joined the State Superintendent in issuing a call to school administrators, parents and communities across the state to find the will to close the achievement gaps between students and to challenge all students to high standards. The Board approved strategies such as: creating a permanent advisory committee to address the issues of higher standards and closing the gaps by race, gender and socioeconomic status; establishing a section within the Department of Public Instruction to provide technical assistance to local school systems and schools to help close gaps; requiring local boards of education to develop annual plans for closing gaps and challenging students to higher levels; developing a resource center for schools and school systems for information on best practices in closing gaps; redirecting available funds to this initiative and encouraging collaboration of school leaders, parents, the faith community, students, historically minority colleges and universities, higher education and other stakeholders to take action to support closing gaps and challenging students to higher levels of performance.