UNC System President Margaret Spellings told lawmakers yesterday that the state has to know where it is going if it wants to achieve educational and economic success.
“Today, we increasingly stand alone as one of just five states without a statewide goal for how many of our citizens need some form of education beyond high school,” she said.
Spellings’ comments came as part of a presentation to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee. She explained to lawmakers the purpose of the myFutureNC Commission — a group with representatives from the business, education, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities, all coming together to look at the state’s economic and education needs and how to meet them. Spellings is a co-chair of the commission, which has met twice so far, and she told lawmakers that without clear goals and a plan to achieve them, the state is “behind the curve.” She said the myFutureNC Commission is bringing people together to develop a plan.
Part of what the commission is setting out to do is understand how to best connect educational experiences in the state for students, she said.
“Our students’ education, from pre-K to high school to college and beyond is not a set of unconnected experiences. At least not for students,” Spellings said. “As policymakers, we have treated them as distinct journeys, but for students it’s a continuum, a path that leads from early childhood through early adulthood and increasingly, through their careers contributing to North Carolina’s economy.”
She said the state has not done enough to align these educational experiences, remove barriers for students, or “raise our expectations of what’s required of our state’s 21st century workforce.”
Getting this alignment right is essential, Spellings explained. She said that for every 100 ninth graders, 72 want to go on to some sort of post-secondary education. But only 30 will graduate in six years with a degree, be it an associate’s or bachelor’s. Twenty-three will get some form of college education but will never get a degree.
“That’s an incredible loss of talent and it’s a status quo that’s unsustainable and harms our state’s economic vitality,” she said.
Getting students ready in such a way that those numbers can improve starts well before students walk through a college door, Spellings said. And that is where myFutureNC comes in.
“In the end, myFutureNC’s mission is simple. Using national and state research, and the wide array of expertise and leadership here in North Carolina, it will get our state on the same page about our educational needs and how to best meet them,” she said.
The commission will release papers from “leading scholars” in the coming months, outlining what challenges the state faces and what reforms might be helpful. The commission will work until the long session of the General Assembly next year to figure out how to address some of the issues the state faces, create attainment goals, and provide recommendations to the state’s legislators.
The commission is organizing listening sessions that bring together a diverse group of voices from around the state to give their input on what the state should be doing and where it should be headed, Spellings said. The goal is to get buy-in from as many different people as possible, including legislators — the ones with the power to actually implement the commission’s recommendations.
“This can’t be a backroom initiative,” she said. “We must come together as a state and collectively commit to a bold vision.”
Legislators asked questions of Spellings, and many took the opportunity to quiz her on specific issues they would like to see addressed.
Sen. Joyce Waddell, D-Mecklenburg, who has worked for decades as a teacher, said she was concerned about educators leaving the classroom. She asked if the commission would address this issue.
“We’ve been talking about this for years. I feel encouraged that we can do somethings to retain this teaching force that we have,” Waddell said.
Spellings said that would be a topic addressed by the commission, as well as the issue of beginning teacher effectiveness.
“We can do a better job of making sure our teachers are equipped and ready,” she said.
Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, mentioned the need to make sure that students can read in such a way that they are prepared to be career and college ready. He worried that the commission would need to address that issue to be successful.
“If we don’t fix that piece then the universities and community colleges are going to have almost an impossible task,” he said.
Spellings agreed that was an issue that needed to be looked at: “Amen. Amen,” she said.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, a chair of the legislative committee, highlighted some of what he said the General Assembly has done to improve the state.
“This General Assembly has worked very diligently since the recession to cut taxes and create an economy that is booming for the state,” he said.
But Barefoot said the state must connect residents to this economy through education if it is going to be successful.
Editor’s Note: EducationNC CEO Mebane Rash is serving as a subject matter expert to the P-12 committee of the commission.