Surrounded by hundreds of teachers, school and district leaders, business and community leaders, and lawmakers, State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced his “#NC2030” plan Tuesday, a detailed strategy that will ensure North Carolina’s public schools are the best place to learn and teach by 2030. Tactics of the comprehensive strategy include continuing to increase teacher compensation, eliminating high-stakes standardized testing through personalized learning, recruiting our best and brightest to the teaching profession, providing more local flexibility to school districts, encouraging all viable career pathways for students, and investing in school construction, Pre-K and kindergarten-readiness programs, and better support for beginning teachers.
“By 2030, North Carolina can be the best place to begin school, the best place to learn and the best place to teach,” Johnson said. “Today we present an ambitious but achievable plan to get there. Our educators are doing their part. It will take innovation and leadership to make it happen.”
Johnson also emphasized that measuring the success of the strategy overall – and of every tactic – is paramount for continued investment in a system that taxpayers support with the largest part of the state’s budget – more than $10 billion each year.
Overall, Johnson identified four broad metrics that will spell success for the plan, saying that North Carolina needs to see an increase every year in:
- 4-year-olds engaged in high-quality kindergarten readiness programs
- Fourth graders reading on grade level
- Students who, after graduation, are on track to their chosen, fulfilling career
- Recruits to education professions and educators remaining in N.C. public schools
The specifics of the plan are outlined in the superintendent’s legislative agenda summary he proposed. As lawmakers begin their legislative session in Raleigh, Johnson will work with them to enact a bold legislative agenda, outlined below.
Best Place to Begin
Help All Children Enter Kindergarten Ready to Learn
- Expand high-quality preschool opportunities for 4-year-olds, streamline funding and access, and require NC DPI to approve a program’s academic alignment with kindergarten expectations. Offer additional kindergarten-readiness tools for children on the waitlist for NC Pre-K and pilot kindergarten-readiness camps.
Continue to Focus on Early Literacy
- Improve Read to Achieve implementation through state-led efforts focused on professional development, high-quality curriculum, on-the-ground support for evidence-based reading instruction through coaching and data-driven feedback, and enhanced summer literacy instruction.
- Continue and expand partnerships such as Wolfpack WORKS that provide intensive support, mentoring, and professional development to reading teachers.
Review assessments and determine appropriate levels to ensure that students are prepared for fourth grade
Best Place to Learn and Pursue Career Pathways
Implement Personalized, Low-stress Education Settings that Maintain High Standards
- Implement personalized-learning opportunities to improve student proficiency, reduce burdens on teachers, and eliminate high-stress over-testing.
- Allow a working group of districts to opt out of the N.C. Mathematics Standard Course of Study through a pilot study using clear, rigorous, and results-driven math standards and personalized-learning tools.
Encourage Connections to Successful Career Pathways
- Expose and prepare students for careers in skilled trades, military, and other high-demand career fields through the SkillsUSA Career Essentials program, improved distance-learning experiences, and access to more community college career coaches. Ensure all students graduate financially literate.
- Prepare middle and high school students for high-tech careers by expanding computer science courses and continuing coding and robotics grants.
Ensure Safe, Supportive Environments for All Students, Families, and Educators
- Continue and expand school-safety and mental-health professionals and equipment grants and encourage innovative approaches, partnerships, and training. Provide state-level regional support to districts. Fund the ongoing costs of an anonymous tip application.
- Provide additional resources and support to meet the unique needs of military families and districts with high demands for special-education services. Allow districts the flexibility to align their calendars to meet community needs and partnerships.
- Continue to provide innovative school choices to families to best meet their needs while holding innovative options accountable for results.
Facilitate Appropriate Learning Spaces for Students and Educators
- Continue lottery funding to assist lower-wealth counties with their critical public school building capital needs. Adopt a plan to address the capital needs of public schools across the state, including agency resources to review and oversee the projects.
Best Place to Teach
Secure Competitive Compensation and Benefits for Educators
- Provide all teachers with a salary increase of at least 5 percent, which would keep the NC average teacher salary competitive with, and greater than, the median household income in North Carolina. A 7 percent increase for all teachers would further promote the competitiveness of teacher salary in N.C.
- Create professional teaching cohorts for the entire state by adding time and compensation at the beginning of the school year for all first-through fourth-year teachers for professional and cohort development. Opt-in program for experienced, qualified teachers to serve as Teacher Leaders during that time (with additional compensation) and throughout the year. Scale the Advanced Teaching Roles pilot to meet demand.
- Recruit and retain teachers through a multi-faceted teacher recruitment and appreciation campaign and expand the NC Teaching Fellows Program.
- Raise principal pay to compete with surrounding states; reward principals for taking on complex schools.
Provide 21st Century Tools and Support for Educators
- Increase funding for textbooks and digital media, empower teachers with direct control over the use of state funding for classroom supplies, and provide all schools with consistent, cost-effective access to high-quality digital and personalized-learning tools.
- Continue the current 15-point grading scale to support consistent evaluation of performance and growth (as opposed to switching to a 10-point scale). Allow a waiver for class size by the state superintendent in case a local district has sufficiently demonstrated they are unable to find qualified teachers to meet requirements.
- Support and enable policymakers, local districts, and educators to make data-driven decisions to improve student outcomes through modern systems and state-level data analytics personnel and resources.
Johnson also unveiled two major initiatives to help achieve the #NC2030 goals. First, the North Carolina Leadership Dashboard is an online tool optimizing data-driven leadership strategies. Intended for superintendents and charter school directors, the dashboard allows leaders to support their human capital strategies with real-time data. Currently being built with support from The Wallace Foundation, the tool will be launched in time for the 2019-20 school year.
The second initiative is a collaboration among the Department of Public Instruction, BEST NC, and Teach.org, with support from the Belk Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Coastal Credit Union. “Teach NC,” launching this spring, is a public-private teacher appreciation campaign to better align the image of the teaching profession with the fruitful, fulfilling career it is and develop a statewide teacher-recruitment system to attract the next generation of North Carolina teachers.
“We need leadership to come together to make this happen,” Johnson said. “Public education is too important to continue the status quo in North Carolina.”