Texas, North Carolina Seen As Models Of Education Reform
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Texas and North Carolina continue to be pace-setter states in the public school standards and accountability movement. This was the consensus opinion at the National Education Summit which was held in New York's Hudson Valley last month, and it is supported by student achievement test results.
Scores of governors, corporate executives, education officials and leaders of teachers' unions attended the summit. It was the third such summit since 1989, and it was the first time education officials and union leaders had been invited.
The focus of the two-day meeting was on the ways and means of raising U.S. learning standards so that American kids no longer lag behind students in Europe and parts of Asia in basic reading, math and science skills. Education reforms in place in Texas and North Carolina were consistently cited as models.
Matt Gandal, Director of the Washington office for Achieve, Inc. which tracks state standards, said the success of the two states can be attributed to the way they integrated standards into their entire education system.
Texas and North Carolina are the recognized leaders because they started earlier than other states and have stuck with their reforms, said Mark Music, president of the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board.
"It takes two and three years just to get something in place," said Music.
In Texas, student achievement tests administered in grades 3 through eight and again in second year of high school help the state rate schools and divvy up education money. Texas also has a comprehensive, state-designed teacher evaluation system.
North Carolina's program, known as the ABCs of Public Education, sets goals for each school in improving student performance and rewards those that attain them with bonuses and other incentives. Fifteen-member teams composed of master teachers and administrators are dispatched to low performing schools to help them get on track.
The U.S. Education Department administers a test called the National Assessment of Education Progress -- the NAEP (rhymes with cape) in professional jargon -- to kids in grades 3, 4, and 8 in 35 states and four jurisdictions.
The 1998 results were published in September, and Texas and North Carolina showed the greatest improvement.
"They continue to show significant and continued progress on their NAEP scores," said Mary Fulton, policy analyst at the Education Commission on the States. She said Texas and North Carolina had clarified exactly what is expected of students and work closely with school districts to maintain their standards.
RAND Corporation analyst David Grissmer looked into the two states' education reforms and found key factors in their progress. They were:
- In each grade, standards are aligned with textbooks and the curriculum.
- Expectations and standards are the same for all students.
- The tests are closely linked to the standards.
- Accountability is linked to the tests and there are rewards and consequences for performance.
- Local school districts are given flexibility to meet the standards.
- Feedback data is used for continuous improvement.
- Resources are re-allocated to schools with more disadvantaged students.
Neither Texas nor North Carolina is resting on its laurels. In this year's legislative session, Texas Republican Gov. George W. Bush pushed through a bill to end social promotion. Texas teachers were given a $3,000 raise and the state set aside $200 million for teacher training to help identify students with reading or learning problems.
North Carolina expanded its Smart Start preschool program and funded Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt's plan to bring teacher salaries in his state into line with the national average of $41,598 by the year 2001. At present North Carolina teachers earn $34,584 per year on average.