Dean McDiarmid’s Op Ed Sparks Conversation

Bill McDiarmid, Dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has always been an active Dean. On March 17, 2014, Real Clear Education published his op ed, “Is the ‘Common School’ Ideal Doomed in North Carolina? Within three days, Diane Ravitch posted the op ed on Daine Ravitch’s blog: A site to discuss better education for all; within three weeks, it was a frequent topic of conversation at the American Education Research Association Conference. Many members of the UNC School of Education community hope that both the Dean’s activism and his op ed continue to be the center of conversations.

Here are a few highlights from the piece:

  • Many of the recent legislative budget cuts funnel state funds into the private sector. For example, budget cuts eliminating the Teaching Fellows program, Master’s pay for teachers, and 3,000 instructional aides, as well as reduction of textbooks and materials funds, redirect those funds to private entities through programs such as vouchers and Teach for America. Dr. McDiarmid refers to this January article on how some charter schools are contracting with for-profit companies.
  • The legislature is sending the message that our schools are broken. McDiarmid argues that prior to these recent policy changes, North Carolina was making great progress. The high school graduation rate was at an all time high, there was job security in teaching, and the state’s lowest achieving schools were improving. Our state was making incremental and continuous progress, yet the legislature does not trust the schools to continue this progress.
  • Of 2.350 respondents surveyed by researchers at UNC-Wilmington, 94% stated that they feel that NC public education is heading in the wrong direction. Questions about specific policy changes revealed that 85% of respondents were not in favor of vouchers for students to attend private schools, 96% percent disagree with cutting the salary incentive for teachers to pursue master’s degrees, and 75 percent disagree with eliminating tenure.
  • Early public school advocates believed that in order to maintain a democracy, all citizens must be equitably educated together in “common schools” regardless of race, gender, or economic status. Recent policy changes do not address this priority. North Carolina remains a segregated state in many ways, primarily residentially, and this negatively impacts our public schools’ ability to serve all children equitably.

This op ed is a great example of how to extend your voice, use data to make your point, and get a lot of information to the public concisely. At LEARN NC, we are proud to be part of a school where the Dean is so committed to activism and social justice.


A North Carolina native and UNC Chapel Hill alumnus, Bill McDiarmid previously served as the Boeing Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington, Seattle. At UW, he led the Carnegie-funded “Teachers for a New Era” project, a national initiative to use evidence, such as performance assessments of preservice teachers, to improve teacher education. He also helped create the Teaching/Learning Partnership program to prepare mid-career changers to teach mathematics and science in Seattle’s high-need middle schools.

Earlier in his career, McDiarmid served on the faculties of the University of Alaska-Anchorage, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Michigan State University, taught high school history in Athens, Greece, and was a Title I teacher in a remote Alaska Native village. At Michigan State, he served as co-director of the National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. In Anchorage, he directed the Institute for Social and Economic Research. He was a visiting professor at Hebei Normal University in Shijiazhuang, China, in 2007.

His research has focused on teacher learning, particularly the preparation of teachers to work with diverse learners, and teacher education programs. He has received an Outstanding Research Award from the American Educational Research Association.

Bill McDiarmid earned an B.A. degree with Highest Honors in American Studies from Carolina in 1969. In 1984, he earned an Ed.D. degree in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.