By Brenda Berg, President & CEO, BEST NC
Since our founding in 2014, BEST NC has advocated for statewide policies that help elevate educators and empower them to serve all of our students better. Our Educator Innovation plan is a long-term strategy to transform the educator pipeline in North Carolina by:
- Flooding the pipeline with rigorously-selected and well-prepared teachers and school leaders;
- Distributing leadership across schools through advanced teaching roles (a strategy that provides career opportunities for master teachers and embeds professional development into the culture of the school); and
- Creating competitive compensation models that reward educators for extending their reach to more students, taking on hard-to-staff positions, and for positively impacting student performance.
But, transformation like Educator Innovation takes time (decades!) and we know all too well the urgency around addressing the inequities in our education systems. While the focus on educators has been and continues to be the crux of our work, last year, an opportunity emerged to address inequity in advanced math course access—not in years or decades like our other work, but almost overnight.
A 2017 investigative series in our local papers found that high-performing, low-income students were being routinely denied access to advanced coursework: “Counted Out: Why have thousands of smart, low-income NC students been excluded from advanced classes?”
With the support of the BEST NC Board and the leadership of a bipartisan pair of legislators, we helped pass House Bill 986, which requires school districts to provide advanced math coursework to all students who scored a level-five (the highest level) on the previous year’s End-of-Grade Test. Remarkably, the policy passed unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Cooper exactly one month after the bill was introduced.
In the school year following the passage of the policy, we estimate that as many as 10,000 talented students were given access to advanced math courses that they would otherwise not have had access to if the policy hadn’t changed.
In eighth grade alone, 2,100 students were “placed up” into Math I (typically taken in ninth grade) during the summer of 2018 after having been originally placed in regular eighth grade math (which repeats many concepts from sixth and seventh grade math).
While this is only the first step in a multi-step policy process to increase course access, we at BEST NC are proud to see this policy having positive impacts on students within months of passing.
Policy and advocacy is a long game, to be sure. Transforming the educator pipeline remains at the core of our strategy. But our experience with House Bill 986 illustrated that there are times when specific short-term policy opportunities are both appropriate and needed to accelerate the deep and profound changes we hope to make in education.
Interested in learning more about automatic enrollment policies? Click here to read an overview of work in Colorado, North Carolina, and Washington, and check out additional first person insights from advocates who worked to make these policies a reality:
- Virginia Barry, Stand for Children Washington
- Prateek Dutta, Democrats for Education Reform Colorado