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CJ Commentary: Avoiding top-down approach to disadvantaged districts

Senior Political Analyst Mitch Kokai has written a commentary published in Carolina Journal on the discussion surrounding a recent report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division. The report centers on student performance in school districts it labels “predominantly disadvantaged” (see image). Kokai explains:

Evaluators identified 1,988 school districts across the country meeting that standard, including 45 in North Carolina. That means 39 percent of this state’s 115 districts qualify as predominantly disadvantaged, compared to a national total of 18 percent.

The report went further in depth into a dozen predominantly disadvantaged, yet high-performing, districts to see how these districts were achieving more success. Kokai writes:

Investigators found some common characteristics. Perhaps most interesting: Districts with the greatest success “are already demonstrating high achievement in third grade.”

One potential contributor to this success might be prekindergarten enrollment. Kokai notes:

Prekindergarten advocates will note that all 12 case-study districts offer pre-K. Among the N.C. districts, four of five have at least 75% of the eligible population participating.

There were many more common themes in the report, but the successes of these districts cannot be attributed to a single policy or program. As Kokai quotes:

“What it boils down to is there’s no magic bullet,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, after reviewing the report. “We’re trying lots of things. We need to continue trying lots of things. Some of them are going to work for some folks. … Nothing works for everyone.”

Kokai agrees that no centralized plan handed down from the General Assembly will solve performance issues in predominantly disadvantaged districts. He concludes:

No magic bullet. No master plan from Raleigh. But North Carolina’s disadvantaged districts still can take steps that will lead to better outcomes for their students.

Read the full piece here. Learn more about education in North Carolina here.

Brenee Goforth / Marketing and Communications Associate

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