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Making the case for pre-K programming, state Superintendent June Atkinson told lawmakers on Tuesday that early childhood education is critical to closing the achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students.

She highlighted statistics showing that 60 percent of students who are on the federal free and reduced lunch program are proficient in reading. In contrast, more affluent students are 90 percent proficient.

“That gives us a sense of urgency and that will also require us as adults to address some of the root causes,” she said, “and some of those root causes for this statistic is that some of our students, especially our students who are economically disadvantaged, do not have quality early childhood education programs.

She made her comments while giving the Education Oversight Committee an update on North Carolina’s Race to the Top initiative.

In addition to early childhood education, she also made reference to the state’s remediation rate at the postsecondary level. Race to the Top, she noted, has several goals, including a 100 percent graduation rate, increased college enrollment, and a 10 percent remediation rate.

It contrasts sharply with the 60 percent remediation rate often referenced by Governor-elect Pat McCrory as a reason for statewide education reform, one that includes a renewed emphasis on career and technology education.

Recent figures show that the remediation rate is slightly higher, or 65 percent, but both figures omit the remediation rate for four-year institutions. That figure is 8.4 percent.