New report reviews major education initiatives of the past seven years

RALEIGH (December 12, 2017) – North Carolina was once viewed as a shining example of progressive education policy in the South, with state leaders developing bipartisan support for public schools, and implementing popular, effective programs. Over the past seven years, however, the state has lost its reputation for educational excellence due to a number of controversial, partisan measures, rapidly expanding school choice, cutting school resources, and eliminating job protections for teachers.

These poorly-executed efforts have failed to deliver positive results for North Carolina’s students, according to a new report from the North Carolina Justice Center. In turn, performance in our schools has suffered, particularly for children of color and those from families with low incomes.

“The past seven years of education policy have been dominated by a series of not just bad policies, but bad policies that are incredibly poorly crafted,” said Kris Nordstrom, a policy analyst with the Justice Center’s Education & Law Project and author of the report. “Nearly all initiatives were moved through the legislature in a way to avoid debate and outside input from education stakeholders. The result has been stagnant student performance, and increased achievement gaps.”

The report reviews major education initiatives since 2010, all of which were based on questionable evidence and crafted haphazardly, ignoring best practices or lessons learned from other states. One commonality of nearly all of the initiatives, the report said, is that they were folded into omnibus budget bills, rather than moved through a deliberative committee process.

The policies included:

  • Class-size reduction (2011): This item seemed innocuous at the time but arguably helped set the stage for the ongoing controversy over this issue. Lawmakers invested approximately $60 million to decrease class sizes but never mandated that schools actually lower their class sizes.
  • Opportunity Scholarship Voucher (2013): The voucher program, which provided eligible students a voucher for tuition at a private school, suffered from multiple design flaws, including a lack of any meaningful accountability measures.
  • Virtual charter schools (2014): These online schools, operated in most instances by for-profit corporations, have been a dismal failure in every other state. Student performance in virtual charter schools has been consistently abysmal, and the model has been wrought with fraud.
  • Achievement School District (2016): Lawmakers looked to Tennessee to create an “achievement school district” (ASD), wherein schools in the bottom 5 percent on state accountability measures were removed from the control of their local school district and placed under the purview of the ASD. Tennessee’s ASD schools have fallen far short of their initial goal and has had “little to no effect” on student performance.

The impact of these poorly-crafted policies is borne by the students of North Carolina, the report said. The state’s Black and low-income students have fallen farther behind their white and higher-income classmates as the General Assembly has ignored the barriers blocking the progress of these students.

“It is time for a new approach,” Nordstrom said. “If North Carolina hopes to return to an education system that benefits children from all backgrounds, policymakers must re-dedicate themselves to open, transparent policy processes. All children deserve the opportunity to learn from great teachers in clean, adequately-supplied classrooms, and enter each school day healthy, free of hunger, and focused on learning. For our children’s sake and our own, these challenges must be met.”

Read the full report at this link.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kris Nordstrom,, 919.856.3195; Julia Hawes,, 919.863.2406.