SOE News

Gov. Easley taps School of Education to examine high schools statewide

Gov. Mike Easley has announced that the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education will work with the State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in a statewide effort to conduct performance audits of high schools in all 115 school districts.

The goal is to ensure accountability and guide the smart, targeted use of resources in the state’s public high schools.

Gary T. Henry, William Neil Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Education, will lead the research. His team will study an existing database that includes student achievement, teacher backgrounds, spending patterns and other data from every school district in North Carolina.

“This database is unparalleled in the country,” Henry said. “It will allow us to go into greater depth in examining resource allocation and the links between specific types of expenditures and student outcomes.”

By examining student achievement, the researchers will identify those high schools that succeed with struggling students to compare with the high schools that have been labeled as high priority or chronically under-performing. They will then analyze data on teacher backgrounds and spending patterns to determine if there are significant differences between the high-performing and low-performing high schools.

In a second phase of the research, Henry and his team will visit low-performing high schools, where fewer than 60 percent of the students reached proficiency on end-of-course tests in the last two years, as well as some high-performing schools. They will interview leaders from those schools to determine how they used their resources and were able to overcome or unable to overcome barriers to effect use of resources.

Statewide, 44 high schools have been designated as low-performing. Many of those schools have made gains in student achievement in recent years although most have not yet reached the state threshold of 60 percent of students passing.

North Carolina has experienced an ongoing legal and political struggle over education spending. Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr., who presides over the Leandro case ─ the school funding lawsuit that sparked the controversy 12 years ago ─ has asked whether the large numbers of failing students in several school systems are a result of insufficient resources for education or the way those resources are spent.  

This research aims to provide some answers.

“This work is a tremendous responsibility,” said Henry, who has previously worked in education policy and research in Georgia and Virginia. “It is an opportunity for the School of Education to make an impact on the quality of education the state provides to its high school students and to advance school reform efforts.  It will complement activities already underway in the School while galvanizing efforts to use research to improve student achievement and educational attainment in North Carolina.”

A report on the first portion of the audit is expected by January 2007 and a full report by next May.