Achievements in Education Give Southern States Reasons to Brag

By Alan Richard — February 13, 2002 2 min read

The South, long burdened with a reputation for low rankings in education, has new bragging rights.

In a recent speech, Gov. Roy E. Barnes of Georgia boasted just how far Southern states have come in education. He claimed, in fact, that several Southern states rank ahead of their Northern counterparts in many categories.

“Being number-one in the South today on many indicators of quality education can mean being first in America, or in the nation’s top 10,” Mr. Barnes, a Democrat who is the current chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board’s executive committee, told that panel at its recent gathering in Atlanta.

He said the South has set the pace for the nation in K-12 education in several areas:

  • Georgia had the highest percentage of children in state-financed prekindergarten in 1999, followed by Oklahoma, Texas, and South Carolina;
  • North Carolina claimed the biggest gains in 8th grade mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1990s. Texas was third, and Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia all tied for sixth;
  • Texas had the highest NAEP scores among African-American students in two categories: 4th grade math in 1998 (North Carolina was second), and 8th grade writing in 2000 (Virginia and West Virginia were tied for third);
  • North Carolina has the most teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with about 3,700. Florida is next with 2,300, South Carolina third with 1,300. The SREB states have two-thirds of the nation’s nationally certified teachers;
  • Virginia had the highest ratio of students per 1,000 taking Advanced Placement exams last year. Maryland, Florida, and North Carolina were in the top 10;
  • Delaware was third, South Carolina fifth, and three others in the top 10 in the number of high schools offering Advanced Placement courses in 2001.

Higher Ed. Highlights

The South has a lot of good news in higher education as well, Mr. Barnes said.

He went on to highlight the the following points:

  • Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was tops in federal research-and-development funding in 1999;
  • Four of the nation’s top 10 public universities in the U.S. News & World Report ranking in 2000 were in the South: the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta;
  • Maryland was third and Virginia fourth in the percentage of college-educated adults in 2000.

“Even with this impressive list of firsts and top-10s, the South faces stubborn, long-term problems,” Mr. Barnes said. He added that progress in education will lead the poorest areas of the region to new prosperity, offering Southern states “a new responsibility.”

Bracey Campbell, the communications director for the SREB and a former journalist and political adviser, said the governor wanted to make sure that word of recent accomplishments made its way outside the region.

“The South has come a long way, but there are still a lot of people who don’t realize how far we’ve come,” he said, recalling that decades ago, in education, “we were last in everything.”

The SREB is a nonprofit organization founded in 1948 by political and business leaders to improve education in 16 states.

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week as Achievements in Education Give Southern States Reasons to Brag