Perhaps you saw the bumper stickers: “North Carolina: first in flight, last in education,” and, “It’s a good thing the Wright brothers went to school in Ohio!” Maybe you noticed advertisements running in your local paper offering teachers a higher starting salary of almost $20,000 to relocate to Houston, Texas.
It could have been when your little girl spoke to you in grammar so grating you weren’t sure she was speaking English or the time you couldn’t help your son with his newfangled Common Core math homework. Did you get an error-riddled resume from a recent high school graduate?
Whatever it was, you’ve probably spent some time wondering about the state of education in North Carolina. If you haven’t, I’ll catch you up real quick: it’s not great. We’re consistently ranked in the bottom half of states (or lower) for education and this summer one survey said we were the worst state for teachers in the United States.
But before you decide to relocate for the sake of the kids, let’s take a breath and find the unbroken silver crayon among the school supplies (purchased with the teacher’s own money) to create our silver lining. Here’s what North Carolina Public Schools are doing right.
North Carolina has great teacher preparation programs. While the enrollment numbers may be down, NC teacher graduates are passionate about and ready for their profession. We also have the highest number of Nationally Board Certified teachers in the country, meaning that there are many experienced and effective teachers in our classrooms.
North Carolina teachers fight for what they believe in. Dissatisfied teachers at the Moral Monday protests care about education and want to improve it. They show up in the thousands to make a difference — by educating students in the classroom and schooling politicians at the capitol. Teachers should teach by example, and our teachers have set the best example by being informed, engaged citizens.
North Carolina students have options. We have a vast array of schools from which to choose. The debate about removing the cap on charter schools could fill several posts, but specialized schools — including charters — are serving the needs of many students while creating competition and impetus for mainstream public schools to diversify offerings and become more innovative.
North Carolina schools are specialized. We have public STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) schools, arts-focused schools, and Project Based Learning schools from kindergarten through high school. North Carolina’s Pre-K’s program prepares four-year-olds for school, and the state pays for mClass: Reading 3D for students in kindergarten through third grade so that teachers can assess and improve student literacy.
At the secondary level, North Carolina has schools focused on engineering, medicine, and business — not to mention the fact that we have early college schools and a North Carolina Virtual Public School.
North Carolina students make it to graduation. While graduation requirements are becoming more stringent to better prepare students for postsecondary education and careers, our graduation rate is historically high at 84%.
Even if North Carolina public education is at its worst, I have to believe it only can — and will — get better. What do you think North Carolina Public Schools do right?
Jennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College.