On October 4, 2012, the State Board of Education unanimously passed what I believe to be the result of the most important work the Board has undertaken during my term as chair. The “Vision of Public Education in North Carolina: A Great Public Education System for a Great State” is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of conversations among local, state and national education experts and stakeholders about the definition and purpose of public education in North Carolina. The two-page vision statement, corresponding longer essay by Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd, and more information about the process of this important work is available here.
As I traveled across the state to gain input on this vision, one question we consistently raised was “what is the purpose of public education?” While that may sound basic, this question was fundamental to our gaining consensus on one shared vision. What we heard – and what we believe – is that those values related to serving the needs of our great state remain true today. People still believe in access, equity and opportunity for all. People also believe that public education continues to serve as the foundation for democracy and as the engine of economic growth. And while our views of particular strategies for reaching educational goals might change, we remain committed to the ideal that education must be based on ambitious and evolving standards that fully prepare our students for the world in which we live.
We also asked the question, “what is ‘public’ about public education?” Here again, we consistently heard of the importance of equal opportunity for all children and the value of the diversity that we find in our publicly-funded schools. We also heard and share in the belief that taxpayer-funded education brings with it an expectation of transparency in governance, access for all children, and accountability for meeting those high education standards.
We also had to understand the role of liberty in education—that opportunity for each child to aspire to his or her dreams—and for parents to be engaged in their child’s education. We heard of the importance of public education as an equalizing force that offers an opportunity for students to learn how to make responsible choices so that they could exercise their liberty as adults. That is why our vision recognizes the need for a flexible, coherent system of public education that serves both the needs of our great state and each individual child. This vision highlights the important balance we must find between liberty and the common good. We want to move past the place where debates suggest that these goals conflict or are mutually exclusive. We disagree. We believe this vision statement makes space for both.
North Carolina is the birthplace of flight and home to the first public university in the country. In this tradition of innovation and opportunity, our state’s constitution recognizes education as a fundamental human right. Throughout history, governors and other state leaders have embraced this responsibility, honored this commitment and invested in building a system of public schools to serve all students. This vision is a reflection of our great history and a collection of values that should guide us on the path ahead.
So what is next? First, I hope you will read our vision statement and ask yourself these questions. I plan to travel across the state to continue the conversations. There are no 10-point plans or complex strategies behind our message, but I believe this vision is still bold enough to change the landscape of education as we know it today. This vision is bold because it represents a shift from focusing on just the nearly 1.5 million students currently in public schools to taking a collective responsibility for every child in North Carolina. And if together, we make a shift in what we believe is a great public education system then we will each be more equipped to do our part to build one.
At the end of the day, our work, our message and our vision is really about our children and what we need to do to prepare each one for the future. That is why each one of us—whether you are a member of a local board of education, a school leader, a teacher, a parent, a business owner, or a citizen—has a role to play in building and supporting a great public education system that will continue to serve this great state.