The Southern Regional Education Board’s “Challenge to Lead” goals for the 16 member states, approved in 2002, seek drastic improvements in the region’s schools. Below is a summary of the goals and where the SREB states are in meeting them.
All children are ready for the 1st grade. Fourteen states have preschool for all 4-year-olds. Florida is set to add preschool in fall 2005. Overall, states’ school-readiness tests lag in quality.
Achievement in the early grades for all groups of students exceeds national averages and performance gaps are closed. Texas and North Carolina are national leaders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Eight other states have seen major gains, but large and persistent gaps remain between racial or ethnic groups.
Achievement in the middle grades for all groups of students exceeds national averages, and performance gaps are closed. NAEP scores are up for students in the middle grades in some states, but are stagnant in others. Scores on state exams often are higher than on NAEP, suggesting state standards and tests may need revision.
All young adults have a high school diploma or, if not, pass the General Educational Development (GED) tests. Graduation rates for Southern states generally are slightly lower than the national rate of 70 percent. Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina have some of the lowest rates in the nation. Fewer than 6 percent of young adults without diplomas in the Southern states receive ged credentials each year.
All recent high school graduates have solid academic preparation and are ready for postsecondary education and a career. Worries continue over the quality of high school courses. The Carolinas lead the region in the percentage of middle-grades students taking algebra. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas are running ads to tell students about skills needed for colleges and careers.
Adults who are not high school graduates participate in literacy and job-skills training and further education. States vary widely in the number of adults enrolled in workforce training. Kentucky has twice the regional average enrolled in such programs.
The percentage of adults who can earn postsecondary degrees or technical certificates exceeds national averages. Fewer than half of the students who enter college in the SREB states graduate within six years. Community colleges have even lower numbers.
Every school has higher student performance and meets state academic standards for all students each year. Vast differences in states’ test-score goals give varying pictures of improvement. Some states have only a few schools in need of improvement, while others have hundreds.
Every school has leadership that results in improved student performance and leadership begins with an effective school principal. Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia lead in reshaping leadership-training programs to focus on instructional leadership and in-school experiences. Many states, though, still haven’t made major shifts to such training.
Every student is taught by qualified teachers. Teacher pay has risen by 36 percent in the sreb states since 1994, a larger increase than the nation saw. But teacher shortages persist in some subjects. Rural areas still struggle to find qualified teachers, but few states have adjusted incentives.
The quality of colleges and universities is regularly assessed and funding is targeted to quality, efficiency, and state needs. Some early work in this area is taking place in education colleges, though such efforts are not as widespread in other areas.
The state places a high priority on an education system of schools, colleges, and universities that is accountable. Many of the sreb states are working toward pre-K-16 systems, but segmentation between elementary school, high school, and college lingers. Florida is the only state with a formal K-16 system.
SOURCE: Southern Regional Education Board, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and Education Week