Comparing and Contrasting…

Posted on Fri, Oct. 07, 2005
A tool for evaluating schools
New Web site offers information for comparing N.C. school districts

A tool for evaluating schoolsNew Web site offers information for comparing N.C. school districts
From former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt of Raleigh, who serves on the National Advisory Board of Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services:

The latest national report card on student achievement shows that North Carolina students are performing above average on national reading and math tests at virtually all grade levels. What’s even more impressive is that our schools continue to outperform despite spending less per-student than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Still, our state’s schools are far from perfect. Our graduation rates are sub-par, and less than one quarter of our high schoolers go on to earn four-year college degrees. College graduates today have double the earning power of high-school dropouts. The need to turn things around couldn’t be clearer.

It’s not controversial to say that our schools can do better. The real question is how.
When I was governor, we launched several new initiatives to improve student performance. We created the primary reading program, reduced class sizes and focused hard on dropout prevention. Gov. Easley and the legislature have expanded many of these programs. I believe strongly that they have benefited our students.

But during my time in Raleigh, there was one thing we wanted to do but couldn’t: seamlessly share information between schools and districts in an effort to determine which districts are performing better, where attention is most urgently needed and whether the strategies and techniques used in better-performing districts could be adapted for other parts of the state. Our problem was that the key data and analysis had never been assembled in a single location before.

Fortunately, that’s changing. Several of the nation’s leading education reformers have built a Web site that includes vital information about every school district in North Carolina and throughout the nation. Anyone who is interested can visit free of charge to find out more about their local education systems and compare schools in their neighborhoods with schools elsewhere. provides many important insights. For example, an analysis of student achievement in economically disadvantaged districts shows a clear link between poverty and low test scores (no surprise there), but it also shows that some exceptional districts are bucking the trend. Their success shows that poverty does not condemn a student to failure. The data also show that high spending doesn’t guarantee high achievement. Students and teachers need more resources, but building a successful school takes more than just money. isn’t just a tool for educators. Parents can use the site to get more involved in their children’s education and inform their advocacy work in local districts. was created by Standard & Poor’s and the Council of Chief State School Officers, with funding from The Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Their aim was to help schools and states look objectively at their education systems and develop home-grown solutions to the challenges they face. I believe their work will help our state’s education leaders become better informed and better-prepared to make decisions that impact our state’s schools and our children’s educations.

For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer’s, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.


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