North Carolina editorial roundup

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Sept. 11

StarNews of Wilmington on universities in North Carolina that ranked in the top 100 in the U.S., including the University of North Carolina Wilimington:

A year ago, the University of North Carolina Wilmington was about to face what would prove to be one of the most trying times in the school's history. Hurricane Florence took a heavy toll on the 100-building campus, inflicting an estimated $140 million in damage and resulting in a month of missed classes. Less than a year later, Hurricane Dorian forced UNCW to once again cancel classes and evacuate the campus.

Those were tough days for the university and its large community of students, faculty and staff. Institutions, after all, are ultimately about people, not buildings. The good news is that UNCW is recovering (Dorian caused only minimal damage) and is stronger than ever.

As the anniversary of Hurricane Florence approaches, the university was struck by a storm of good news on Monday: In U.S. News & World Report's extensive annual rankings of universities and colleges, UNCW was rated among the Top 100 Public National Universities in the United States.

Not only is it impressive that UNCW (92nd) cracked the Top 100, the fact that it is now classified as a "National University" is a testament to the bold vision Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli's 2016 strategic plan, which placed a high priority on advancing "research and scholarly activities."

Considered the highest classification, U.S. News & World Report's National University designation is for schools that "offer a full range of undergraduate majors, plus master's and doctoral programs, and emphasize faculty research or award professional practice doctorates."

UNCW is now playing in the big leagues: The top five schools on the list are 1. UCLA; 2. Cal Berkeley; 3. Michigan-Ann Arbor; 4. University of Virginia; and 5. UNC Chapel Hill. The only other UNC System school in the top 100 was N.C. State (34th).

While Florence and Dorian delivered a double dose of bad news, the good news for UNCW also was doubled. One of the reasons for the higher classification is UNCW's designation last December as a "Doctoral University: High Research Activity" in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. (It previously was in the "Master's Colleges & Universities: Larger Programs" category).

And don't write off those labels as academic jargon — UNCW's elevation to "Doctoral University: High Research Activity" is one of the biggest accomplishments in its 72-year history. It's also vital for the future of the Wilmington area, which, despite its growth and relative prosperity, has lagged behind areas such as the Triangle, with its expansive presence of research universities.

UNCW, like most colleges and universities, has long had a positive impact on the local economy. But it is the research universities, economists have found, that can transform a region.

Having a strong research university is basically a guarantee of a thriving economy. As Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith observes: "By attracting smart people to the region and drawing in private investment, research universities harness the forces of knowledge-industry clustering to increase the wealth of an entire region."

The "knowledge industry" is not confined to the school — research activity spills over into the larger community and builds on itself. Economists Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz found that research universities increase not only the supply of high-skilled (and highly paid) human capital, they also increase the demand.

When New Hanover County voters approved a special tax and Wilmington College was formed in 1947 (it was a county institution, overseen by the board of education), who could have imagined it one day would have over 17,000 students and be categorized as a "national university"? That tax levy residents imposed on themselves proved to be an incredible investment.

More than 70 years later, this is a remarkable time for UNCW. It's a shame that major accomplishments (another big one is the construction of Veterans Hall, the 145,000 square foot home to the College of Health and Human Service, set to open in 2020) have been overshadowed by a pair of hurricanes.

Yet we can't help but think that the adversity the UNCW community had to overcome has left it more united, more agile and more determined than ever to fulfill a new and bolder vision.

Storm clouds will come and go, but UNCW's future — and its transformative impact on the region — looks brighter than ever.



Sept. 8

The Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News & Observer on the recent ruling stating Republican-drawn legislative maps are unconstitutional:

Next year, for the first time in several years, North Carolina voters will cast ballots in races with fairly drawn legislative maps that offer all voters a full voice in their future. It's why everyone from local voting rights advocates to former president Barack Obama celebrated a Wake County Superior Court ruling Tuesday that Republican-drawn legislative maps are unconstitutional. Republicans will not appeal the Common Cause v Lewis decision.

That's good news to anyone who rues gerrymandering, regardless of the party that's doing it. So yes, you should be celebrating.

But you also should be angry.

Today, before we look forward to fairer elections in North Carolina, let's remember exactly what's happened in our state the last half-decade. In their deliberate and damning ruling Tuesday, one Republican and two Democratic judges laid it all out for us. They explained how Republican lawmakers were guilty of "specifically and systematically designing the contours of the election districts for partisan purposes and a desire to preserve power." They described, in nearly 300 exhaustive pages, how the tactics violated our state constitution's free elections clause, its equal protection clause, and the right to free expression and assembly.

We were, quite simply, cheated. It was gerrymandering with more precision and more scope than this state has seen, even during the decades Democrats were in power. It was legal — until Tuesday, at least — but it was essentially a political crime, a theft of votes, something far more destructive than last year's 9th District ballot fraud that likely will send people to jail.

But the tilted maps didn't just steal the integrity of elections. They stole what North Carolina used to be. Under a Republican super-majority, we became a state that once again jumped to discriminate against its residents, one that was no longer a model for environmental programs and successes, one that occupied the headlines and late-night jokes that used to be reserved for other states.

Fair maps — and fairer elections — might have changed some of that.

We likely wouldn't have had Amendment One, a law that made North Carolina the last state to discriminate against gays and lesbian by banning same-sex marriage.

We may not have had HB2, a harshly discriminatory law that cost the state its reputation along with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investment.

We certainly wouldn't have had a supermajority of Republicans regularly overreaching with laws that courts struck down, and breaking legislative norms and rules so that they could push through an agenda without opposition.

That arrogance was especially on display with gerrymandering. Not only did Republicans rig legislative and congressional maps, they did so brazenly and with the belief it was appropriate because Republicans should be leading North Carolina. It's the kind of self-affirming blindness that comes when there aren't enough people to tell you no.

There's little reason to believe Republicans wouldn't try to get it all back if they achieved a new supermajority in the General Assembly or a majority on the state Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on partisan gerrymandering. So while you should be angry about the injustice afflicted on our state, you also should be vigilant. The maps will be fairer this next election, but the stakes will be just as high.

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Sept. 8

The Times-News of Hendersonville on recently passed legislation aimed at excessive testing in North Carolina schools:

North Carolina school kids, parents and teachers exasperated by "over-testing" got some good news last week, thanks to a rare moment of bipartisanship in the N.C. Legislature.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed legislation Thursday (Sept. 5) that the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed last month designed to cut down on excessive testing.

Starting next school year, the Testing Reduction Act will eliminate more than 20 End-of-Course exams in 29 classes ranging from social studies in fourth grade through the eighth grade, to pre-calculus and American history in high schools.

State law doesn't require these "North Carolina Final Exams," which had been used to comply with previous federal mandates.

The law directs school systems to review local testing requirements periodically and reduce them if they exceed the statewide average. It also prevents school systems from requiring students to do a "high school graduation project" unless they provide needy students with up to $75 for project expenses.

The state will also begin a five-year study of the N.C. Personalized Assessment Tool. It would replace long end-of-grade exams in reading and math for students in grades three through eight with shorter tests in each subject throughout the school year, the Raleigh News & Observer reported.

... Gov. Cooper signed the measure after it unanimously passed the Senate and cleared the House in a 105-12 vote last month.

"North Carolina needs to be able to assess how our schools are performing and how well students are learning," he said. "A reasonable assessment system that gives teachers and parents accurate information without sacrificing accountability should help children learn without over-testing."

State education officials also last week released 2018/19 accountability results for every public school. These can be seen at

The results showed 19 of 23 Henderson County public schools (83 percent) met or exceeded growth in academic performance expected by the state. According to the report, 66.5% of local students demonstrated proficiency in their grade-level subjects. Local schools ranked 11th out of 115 public school districts in the state in overall proficiency.

The accountability results also assign grades to each school in the state. These grades are based 80 percent on student achievement and 20 percent on improvement shown on state standardized tests. Three Henderson County public schools got an "A'' while 11 scored "B'' and eight were given a "C."

While there is always room for improvement, it is encouraging that all local schools received a passing or better grade.

Many educators chafe at reducing all the factors that go into school performance into a single letter grade. While letter grades may oversimplify and fail to account for all the challenges schools face, they do provide a snapshot for parents to see how schools are performing in relation to past performance and other schools.

The state will release detailed School Report Cards in November, including data on academic performance by grade level and subject.