State News

Bowles: State needs to fix K-12 education

Posted September 16, 2009 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2009 7:02 p.m. EDT

— University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said Wednesday that improving public education in the state must start with fixing the state's elementary, middle and high schools.

"Our standards are too low," Bowles said, citing statistics that show 60 percent of graduating high school students who can't read at grade level.

The comments came at the end of a meeting of the North Carolina Education Cabinet, which also includes state schools Superintendent June Atkinson, State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison and Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College System.

Perdue has tried to revive the Education Cabinet, designed to provide better cooperation throughout public education.

"If we get everyone working on the same page and we raise our standards and we do the assessment piece and we align these courses, that to me will certainly put us in a different league," said Howard Lee, executive director of the Education Cabinet and former Board of Education chairman.

Education officials said the entire system must have consistent standards, goals and technology, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. Bowles said he plans to take immediate action at the university level.

"No. 1 (priority) is going to be to produce not just more teachers but better teachers," he said. "You'll also see us strengthen our master's in school administration program so we produce better principals."

The meeting was the first for the cabinet with Gov. Beverly Perdue since a state budget passed that required painful cuts to education spending.

The General Assembly approved a budget signed by Perdue last month that required local school districts and UNC to find about $300 million in spending reductions this fiscal year. Less money means layoffs on some campuses and larger class sizes elsewhere.

Perdue said she was disappointed with late budget moves that cut support for classroom technology.

"It's inexcusable in the 21st century (that) we went backwards on technology, and I won't let that happen again," she said.