North Carolina’s high school graduation rate increased more than 9 percentage points since the state won a $400 million federal education grant in 2010, and the gap between white and minority students earning diplomas narrowed from nearly 14 percentage points to 7.
The effort to improve 118 of the lowest-performing schools in the state was deemed a Race to the Top success, and state Department of Public Instruction is preparing a new list of schools for the “turnaround” program.
But overall student performance declined. Evaluators attributed the losses to new academic standards and tests introduced in 2012-13. A plan to use incentives to lure teachers to low-performing schools and give bonuses to teachers whose students learned a lot failed. The N.C. Teachers Corps, which was to train recent college graduates and mid-career professionals to become teachers, fell far short of its goal.
The state used the $400 million awarded in 2010 to embark on a sweeping program that included digital connections, teacher and principal training, school improvement, and changed teacher evaluations.
North Carolina was one of a dozen winners of federal Race to the Top grants. States were told to develop plans in four area:
▪ changing academic standards and tests
▪ building online centers for student data and teacher training
▪ recruiting and rewarding effective teachers and principals and getting them to work in struggling schools
▪ helping low-performing schools.
The State Board of Education took stock of the grant program’s results at its meetings this week, a few weeks after the program ended. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University were hired to make periodic reports on progress during the life of the grant. They offered their final assessment this week.
“The news is pretty good,” said Trip Stallings, director of policy research at the Friday Institute at N.C. State University. “Most things worked pretty well, and most things unfolded the way that we thought they would unfold.”
The evaluation looked at 11 grant projects and concluded that five of 11 achieved all their intended results, and four others achieved at least some of their goals.
“We have moved light years to have schools get connectivity,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson. The grant helped establish a site called Home Base, which holds student data, ideas for class lessons and other material for teachers.
North Carolina students showed more improvement in reading than other states on a national test called NAEP, bigger gains on NAEP eighth grade math scores, SAT math scores and graduation rates. State students had smaller gains in students taking AP exams, SAT reading scores and SAT writing scores.
Though the improvements at low-achieving schools was marked as a success, evaluators said those gains cannot be sustained without constant attention.
Activities that are part of “turnaround services” for those schools, which include instructional coaching and professional development “will be required for the foreseeable future to ensure adequate education for all students in North Carolina,” according to one report.
With the end of the federal grant, the DPI “turnaround” team has been cut in half. The state is about to take another group of schools into the program, but the program’s reach will depend on state budget funding, Atkinson said.