Federal education officials offered praise for North Carolina’s progress on school reform and improvement at the halfway mark of the nearly $400 million Race to the Top grant.
North Carolina, Tennessee and Rhode Island were singled out as the most successful by federal officials who reviewed the dozen states and the District of Columbia that received federal grants in the early rounds of the Race to the Top competition. The reports were made public Friday.
“North Carolina has set a clear path forward on comprehensive education reform that will better support teachers and principals and enable student growth for years to come,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “They have overcome challenges and proved what’s possible when everyone works together.”
States doing well are transforming classrooms into models of 21st century learning, Duncan said. But making so many changes at once can be unwieldy and complicated.
North Carolina, for example, has implemented a new curriculum called the Common Core, at the same time that it is formulating new tests, overhauling technology systems, creating specialized math and science schools, and ushering in teacher evaluations that judge educators in part by how their students perform.
“This work has created a solid foundation that will benefit students who enter our doors for decades to come, preparing them better than ever before for what awaits them in college and in their careers,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said in a news release.
The report did identify some glitches with North Carolina’s execution of the grant, pointing out contract delays in some technology projects and slow progress in hiring new teachers entering the profession through an alternative certification program.
The report on Friday outlined what the state has done so far with the four-year grant:
Transition to new curriculum: Held six summer institutes for 2,800 teachers and principals to be trained for the new Common Core standards. Tried out new reading diagnostic tools for 6,600 teachers in 480 elementary schools.
New data systems: Using cloud technology, the state began sharing information technology functions among school districts. Forty districts use a new online system to help teachers keep track of attendance, tests, student work and classroom activities.
Evaluations and teachers: New online teacher evaluation process includes data on student growth. Developed ways to measure student performance and growth. Trained 60 school leaders in regional academies.
Low-performing schools: Sent 72 specially trained coaches to help low-achieving districts and schools. Eighty-four percent of low-performing schools have increased performance on tests, with 39 schools performing above the target of 60 percent proficiency.
STEM education: In partnership with the New Schools Project, the state developed new schools and networks of schools focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Some focus on specific sectors of the state’s economy, such as energy, aerospace, biotechnology and agriscience. Three new online STEM courses were developed that can eventually be used statewide.