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myFutureNC blog series: Opportunities for K-12 education in North Carolina

In my years as a school district leader in North Carolina, I was fortunate to witness many successes in our state’s K-12 education system. Those successes include a four-year cohort high school graduation rate that has increased every year for the last 12 years (now 86.5 percent) and a significant increase in the number of students taking and “passing” college-level courses while still in high school (NC students earned proficient scores of three or higher than on more than 71,000 advanced placement exams in 2016-17).

However, as you know, there remains room for continued improvement in the K-12 schools of our state. End-of-grade and-end-of course assessment data, especially when disaggregated by race and socio-economic status, reveal that we must increase our efforts to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education. In addition, while we strive to improve assessment results, we must also be sure to provide a well-rounded education for all students.

As myFutureNC Commissioners endeavor to create a coordinated plan to increase the educational attainment of our citizens, we must consider how policy and practice can address the following issues in K-12 education:

  • A Changing Student Population – As our student population grows, the makeup of the students served by our public schools is also shifting. Each year, our student body grows more racially diverse and more economically disadvantaged. Our approach to education and intervention must shift in response to these demographic changes and the fact that an increasing number of students, while certainly capable of learning, may not have been afforded enough early childhood educational opportunities.
  • Disparate Education Outcomes – The well-documented gaps between certain students of color and their white peers on state assessments continues to result in disparate long-term educational outcomes for certain student groups in our schools. And while improving classroom instruction represents a critical avenue for closing this gap, it also important to recognize how various policies, such as policies on discipline and placement policies in special education and advanced coursework contribute to these disparities.
  • Insufficient Emphasis on Career and Technical Education (CTE) – CTE coursework is not currently required for high school graduation in North Carolina. Additionally, CTE programs across schools and districts vary widely in depth and breadth, resulting in uneven access for students. These conditions represent a significant concern as early exposure to career exploration opportunities is a key component in helping students carve out career pathways for themselves. 

The individual and cumulative effects of these and other issues cause many students, especially students of color and low-income students, to lose momentum or drop off the path to postsecondary education. This negatively impacts our state’s attainment rate and, more importantly, hinders these students’ chances of earning a family-supporting wage.

Although these challenges cannot be understated, I think North Carolina would be better served to consider them opportunities for thoughtful, solution-minded, and collaborative efforts.

  • What if school and community leaders developed a strategic campaign to educate all parents and students about the economic value of postsecondary certificates, credentials, and degrees?
  • What if equity became a central tenant of all of our education improvement efforts?
  • What if business and philanthropy joined together with public school systems to develop robust CTE programs in which students are incentivized to develop work-based skills early in their educational experiences?

If we are able to capitalize on just one of these opportunities, myFutureNC will be a catalyst for significant change for North Carolina students. If we are able to capitalize on all three, the potential for our state is endless.

Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by The Hunt Institute. It has been posted with the author’s permission. Mo Green serves on the board of EducationNC.

Maurice O. “Mo” Green

Maurice O. “Mo” Green served as the executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation from 2016-2023.