Gov. Michael Easley has created a blue ribbon commission to take a look at North Carolina's education system and recommend improvements. This is the first time in 20 years that the system has been examined from top to bottom.
Next January, the 30-member panel of business leaders, elected officials, school board members, educators and parents will unveil its findings.
"I want this commission to construct a road map for what constitutes a superior education in today's society, and how North Carolina can take steps to ensure that every child has the opportunity not just to pass, but to excel," Easley told the commission at its first meeting in June.
North Carolina has been recognized as a model for education reforms and has the distinction, along with Texas, of achieving the greatest improvement in student scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). But Easley doesn't think that is enough.
Easley says students are just now turning the corner. "Our investments in education are just starting to pay off. We recently learned that our students are making the greatest gains nationwide in math tests. For the first time, little by little, we are making consistent progress. Now is the time to take bigger and more aggressive steps. For the first time, our state has become the benchmark by which other states measure improvements in education," he said.
North Carolina has set standards of learning and has been testing students. The state has focused on setting up pre-Kindergarten programs, teacher quality issues and reducing class size."But we must look beyond these steps and we must be more strategic in our approach to improving our schools," Easley said.
Besides looking at state schools that are working, the panel will explore successful programs in school systems of other states. For instance, Connecticut and New York approach high school drop-outs differently than North Carolina has, according to John Dornan, a member of the panel and Director of the North Carolina Public School Forum.
There are three subcommittees - one dealing with school finance, another seeking best practices for helping low income students achieve and a third examining curriculum and assessments in high schools. This last group will also focus on recruiting and retaining teachers as well as ways to shrink the drop-out rate.
The subgroups will meet nine times and the full group four times before January. It is likely that legislation will be drawn up based on the panel's findings.