N.C. among winners of school reform grant

From staff reportsAugust 24, 2010 

— North Carolina has been named a winner of up to $400 million in the national "Race to the Top” school reform grant competition. Other winners are Georgia, New York, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

North Carolina was one of 19 finalists competing for a share of $3.4 billion in grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

Under the state's proposal to win the grants, North Carolina could remove principals from low-performing schools that don't improve and would build networks of schools focused on math and science. The state would also create training for new teachers modeled after the Teach for America program, which recruits top college graduates to teach in poor schools.

In its application for $400 million over four years, the state proposes wide-ranging advances intended to lift student test scores, boost high school graduation rates and make graduates better prepared for college work.

Being named a finalist was "a tremendous recognition of the work we are doing here in North Carolina to ensure that all of our children have access to the best possible public education," Gov. Bev Perdue said in a statement. "We continue to push for high standards in all public schools."

Since losing in the first round, the state moved to beef up its proposal. The state won points on its application by adopting national curriculum standards, and passed a law allowing school districts to start charter schools without having those schools count against the state's 100-charter limit.

The state set targets for student improvement that include an increase in the graduation rate to 85 percent in 2016, up from about 72 percent last year. Also, the state aims to raise scores on national reading and math tests by 14 points over six years and reduce the proportion of university and community college freshmen enrolled in remedial courses.

“Winning Race to the Top funds is a testament to quality innovations our state is making in the classroom,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a Lillington Democrat and a former N.C. state schools superintendent. “Now is the right time to put these funds to use and ensure our schools are equipped to educate North Carolina’s next generation.”

North Carolina's application proposed a range of strategies for achieving the improvements. For example, in the 132 schools in which more than half of students fail state tests, local districts may have to agree to hand over control of those schools to the State Board of Education.

To get new teachers to work in low-performing schools, the state will provide them with tuition money to get master's degrees, forgive their student loans or offer them housing.

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