What Does Public Education Mean to You?
After the State Board of Education met last September to look at our goals and set the course for the coming year, we determined that there was a need to shift the current conversation around public education and its role in our state and in our society. Following this meeting and at the Board's request, Legislative Director Ann McColl traveled across the state to have conversations with hundreds of different people about the purpose of public education, why it exists and why it is important.
In addition to holding these meetings, we also asked Public Policy Polling to conduct a phone survey of 563 North Carolina voters to find out more about their opinions and beliefs regarding public education.
Results from the poll, which was conducted April 19-20, show that among all respondents:
- 81 percent strongly agreed that public education is an investment in the future;
- 76 percent strongly agreed that public education is a tool for creating opportunity for all children, regardless of where they live;
- 68 percent strongly agreed that everyone in society benefits from a system of public education;
- 63 percent of respondents strongly agreed that public education is the foundation of our democracy; and
- 52 percent of respondents strongly agreed that public education is the engine of our economy.
We also learned that, among these same respondents,:
- 38 percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, "Taxpayers without children should not have to pay taxes to support education.";
- 28 percent believed that graduation rate has decreased over the past few years; and
- 42 percent believe that public schools are failing and need to be overhauled.
The complete results from the survey are available here (pdf, 163kb). The results show that while many North Carolinians believe in the importance of education, some are basing their perception that public schools in this state are failing on false information.
For example, many people may not realize that:
- Since 2005, the percentage of North Carolina students who enter high school and graduate four years later has grown by nearly 10 percentage points, from 68.3 to 77.9 percent. Contrary to popular belief, graduate rates are higher than they have ever been.
- When the state began participating in National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in 1992, approximately half of all North Carolina fourth graders scored below Basic in mathematics. In 2011, only 12 percent of the state's fourth graders scored below Basic. Among eighth graders, this percentage has dropped from 62 percent scoring below Basic in 1990 to 25 percent in 2011.
- North Carolina students also have shown the largest 10 year gain in SAT scores among the states where the test is the most commonly used college entrance exam. Students in our state have improved their combined reading and mathematics scores on the SAT by 20 points over the past decade.
Today, we are at a turning point in public education. Some opinion leaders choose to ignore our progress and use inaccurate information to claim that North Carolina's public school system is broken beyond repair so they can advocate for completely different models of education. Others see the progress that has been made and believe we must continually "remodel" our existing structure of public schools to meet ever-changing student needs.
I believe that one thing is certain. If we don't try to maintain a structure in which public schools are central, we are left with many different types of schools that are not held accountable to the same standards and that do not provide equal access or opportunities for all students. That model of an education system will not sustain progress. It will not meet the needs of all students. It will not serve as the foundation of our democracy. It will not be the engine to our economy. And it does not support the common good.
That is why we need your help in creating and sharing a message that will help to keep our structure of public schooling viable and strong. We need innovative and creative thinkers who will take this conversation to the next level. If you have opinions about what public education means to you, we want to hear them. We want to know how public education has shaped your life. You can email me your thoughts, but we also need your help reaching out to others in your community to continue this dialogue in the months to come.
This is the most important work the State Board has undertaken since I have served as chairman, but we will not be able to shift public opinion without your help. Please take the time to share your thoughts and join in the conversation about public schools and the common good. We look forward to hearing from you soon.