The (Educationally Progressive) Old North State

When I first proposed moving from New York to North Carolina fourteen years ago to accept a teaching position in the Wake County Public School System, my friends and family were mortified. You see, we didn’t know anyone who lived below the Mason/Dixon line and had only been exposed to the South through stereotypes.

Of particular concern were the quality of southern schools. Convinced that Andy and Opie were real citizens of the Old North State, my friends teased me mercilessly. “Hope you speak Red-neck,” they’d say. “Want to borrow my Jeff Foxworthy CD?” Most were convinced that I’d be throwing away my career working in a place that they described as “backwards.”

It wasn’t long, however, until I realized that North Carolina is anything but backwards when it comes to education. Under the leadership of former Governor Jim Hunt and current Governor Mike Easley, our state is regularly recognized as a progressive national leader with innovative plans that are modeled across the country.

Three of my favorite current initatives are:   

The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey: The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey is being used to make informed decisions about teacher professional development, school leadership and the time we have available to teach. It is a tool that gives educators an opportunity to speak up about the strengths and weaknesses in our profession and is incredibly meaningful because it puts numbers behind the reality of our work. The survey has since spread from North Carolina to several other states.   

To learn more about the Teacher Working Conditions initiative, visit:

Learn and Earn Program: Governor Easley has helped to redefine high school education with his “Learn and Earn” initiative which addresses dropout rates by allowing students to work through a five year program that prepares them for work in emerging industries while earning a high school diploma and an Associates degree at the same time. This program ensures that students who do not plan to pursue a four-year degree have the kinds of skills necessary for higher paying work.

To learn more about Learn and Earn, visit:

Earn Scholarships: Governor Easley paired the “Learn and Earn” program with a proposal for an “Earn” scholarship program that would provide students from low and moderate income families with a free college education. By pairing the Associate degree available through Learn and Earn high schools with two year grants from the state, students can complete their bachelor’s degree debt free. The structured and staged approach to higher education is really pretty innovative and has potential to increase the quality of life for students who may have otherwise been denied a professional future.

To learn more about the Earn Scholarships, visit:

Needless to say, I’m pretty proud of the work that we’re doing here in North Carolina! 

One thought on “The (Educationally Progressive) Old North State

  1. Nancy Flanagan

    From the north:
    The myth of the superiority of northern school systems began decades ago, when there were–perhaps–some facts to back up these claims. Northern states paid their teachers better and teachers had more influence over local policy decisions because of collective bargaining. In a local-control world, the likelihood of better-prepared teachers and advantaged kids from the suburbs attending good public schools was greater than in the south, where advantaged kids were often attending private schools to avoid the effects of Brown. Some (not all) urban school systems were thriving in the north, and great public urban systems offered beautiful buildings and wonderful programming.
    A lot of this collapsed over time, as a result of re-segregation, complacency, power struggles involving a labor-management model of running schools. In the 21st century, I believe southern schools (mainly due to hard work and visionary leadership)are leading in all the ways you mention, and more.
    But the myth persists, here in the north. In the past month, in my local newspaper, someone sent a letter in claiming that southern states were crying out to get Michigan-trained teachers because our “standards were higher.” I responded with facts: southern states were crying out for our teachers because they were growing so fast that they needed to look outside their own states (unlike MI, which now exports 70% of its trained teachers). I also pointed out that EDWeek’s Teacher Quality reports gave Michigan a “D” while 4 of the top five states were in the south. (No response to my comeback, BTW.)
    We have just believed in our own superiority here for so long that we no longer look at facts, programs and initiatives that prove the opposite.

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