On Monday Governor Beverly Perdue named Bill Harrison, superintendent of the Cumberland County Schools (CCS) to manage staff at the Department of Public Instruction and help guide education policy at the State Board of Education. Perdue’s appointment is an attempt to make public education more accountable and create defined lines of responsibility among the leading education organizations. According to Perdue, “This is the most important job in North Carolina.”
I applaud Perdue’s efforts to enhance accountability. The size of the job and the complexity of the challenges demand a top notch candidate who has a proven record of performance. Does Bill Harrison fit the bill? Mr. Harrison’s experience as a superintendent is dotted with stops in Fayetteville, Orange and Hoke County. Since 1997 Harrison he has been superintendent of CCS. A look at State Report Cards since 2001-02 and recent graduation rates at CCS is instructive.
ABC: End of Grade Tests. The percentage of students who score at or above grade level on reading tests increased from 78.1 percent (2001-02) to 84.2 percent (2006-07). With regard to math scores, the percentage of CCS students scoring at or above grade level declined from 84.4 percent (2001-02) to 57.4 percent (2006-07). The slight increase in reading and significant decline in math scores mirrors the trend lines of many districts. However, the CCS scores in math and reading scores still trailed state averages for every category.
ABC Tests: End-of-Course Tests: Only once between 2001-2007 did CCS students surpass the state average on any of the ten End of Course Tests.
Schools Making AYP: Since 2004 the number of CCS schools making AYP has generally trended downward: 75.3 percent (2004); 59.3 percent (2005); 31.8 percent (2006); 28.4 percent (2007) and 25.9 percent (2008). CCS scores are significantly lower than state AYP scores for the same years: 85.2 percent (2004; 75.3 percent (2005); 79.3 percent (2006); 80.5 percent (2007) and 69.5 percent (2008).
Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rates: CCS slight improvement in four-year cohort graduation rates, increasing slightly from 67.4 percent (2007) to 71.3 percent (2008) mirrors the slight improvement in graduation rates state wide. However, the CSS 2007 figure (67.4 percent) was slightly lower than the state average (69.5 percent ). The CSS 2008 4-year cohort graduation rate is slightly higher than the 2008 state average (70 percent).
Five-Year Graduation Rates: Over the same time period, CCS experienced a slight increase in five year cohort graduation rates, increasing from 67.2 percent (2007) to 70.4 percent (2008). Again, these trends mirror slight improvements on the state level as well. However, CCS figures for both years still trail state average for 2007 (70.3 percent) and 2008 (71.8 percent).
One of Mr. Harrison’s first challenges will be to boost state test scores and improve the graduation rate. Unfortunately, Mr. Harrison’s eleven years at CCS seem to lack a record of progress or accomplishment in these two areas. For most of this time, CCS has lagged consistently behind state averages in testing and graduation rates. If the new education COO position is the most important job in North Carolina, Governor Perdue should spell out the reasons why Bill Harrison is the right person for the job.