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Race to the Top

Education reform in North Carolina received a boost from the federal government this week, thanks to a partnership between the state and North Carolina State University.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program will provide $400 million in funding for innovative initiatives that address specific state needs in four areas of education reform: great teachers and leaders for all classrooms and schools; turnaround of low-performing schools and districts; internationally benchmarked standards and accountability; and education data systems to improve teaching, learning, and school management.

States are required to submit proposals in a competitive grant process. NC State’s Dr. Glenn Kleiman, executive director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and professor of education, coordinated the overall grant proposal on behalf of Gov. Beverly Perdue, the North Carolina State Board of Education (SBE), and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). Verna Lalbeharie, a senior research associate, and Dr. Trip Stallings, a post-doctoral fellow, also played leadership roles in coordinating the process of developing this large, complex proposal, while many other faculty and staff at the Friday Institute and College of Education made significant contributions.

Perdue praised NC State’s role: “The Race to the Top funding gives an enormous boost to our plans to ensure that every child who graduates is ready for a career, college or technical training. We could not have secured this award without the help of Dr. Glenn Kleiman, the Friday Institute and the NC State College of Education. They were invaluable partners in putting together the Race to the Top application and will continue to be part of its implementation.”

State Board of Education Chairman William Harrison added: “The collaboration between the Governor’s Office, the Department of Public Instruction and North Carolina State University far surpasses the level of any collaboration in which I have been involved during the 35 years I have worked in education. Glenn Kleiman and his staff at the Friday Institute have been absolutely incredible. NC State University has made a significant contribution to the future of public education in our great state.”

We sat down with Kleiman to discuss the important role the Friday Institute played in the process.

1) How did NC State and the Friday Institute get involved in putting together the Race To The Top proposal?

We worked closely with Gov. Perdue when she was lieutenant governor and with NCDPI on a number of projects, so we built upon strong working relations. Also, prior to joining NC State three years ago, I had lots of experience developing large proposals, including some that were funded by the U.S. Department of Education. So I offered to help with the Race to the Top proposal when we first heard about it in early 2009. At the time, I had no idea how long and complex an endeavor it would be, or how central a role we would play.

2) What goes into putting together a huge proposal like this?

The Race to the Top proposal process started well over a year ago. The Friday Institute team worked with education leaders across the state, organizing meetings and work groups, orchestrating the proposal process, and writing a substantial portion of the proposal. The collaboration included education leaders from organizations across the state, the most obvious being the Office of the Governor, SBE and NCDPI, but also included school districts, UNC General Administration and several UNC campuses, the New Schools Project, MCNC, the N.C. Professional Teaching Standards Commission, the professional associations of North Carolina teachers, administrators and school board members, and many other organizations. At NC State, a number of faculty and researchers from the College of Education and the Friday Institute made important contributions.

The Friday Institute’s role was to bring people together, brainstorm ideas and shape them, followed by an intense period during which we funneled the result of that planning into the development of the actual proposal. One of the biggest challenges was addressing the many specific criteria required by the U.S. Department of Education, while maintaining as many of the innovative ideas as possible. NCDPI, working with the professional associations and the governor, did a great job getting every school district to sign on to the proposal – North Carolina is one of just a few states that accomplished that. The Friday Institute and NCDPI then coordinated on all the details of producing the final proposal, which was about 250 pages of text, another 250 pages of appendices, and a $400 million budget.

3) What are the goals we are trying to reach through this program?

In general, the goals are to improve student achievement, with specific targets for student scores on the National Assessment for Educational progress; for increased graduate rates and college attendance; and for reduction of the achievement gaps across groups of students, gaps that have long persisted in our state and throughout the country. Another important goal is to improve all of our low performing schools, so that students everywhere in North Carolina have the opportunity for a good education that will lead to college and career readiness. And all of this will require having a great leader for every school and a great teacher for every classroom. The goals are easy to state and can be measured, but are ambitious and therefore challenging to meet.  The governor’s education agenda that constitutes the frame of our Race to the Top plan – Career and College: Ready, Set, Go! – clearly identifies all of these areas of schooling outcomes and reforms as priorities, and there is a deep commitment to them across the state.

4) How do you see the funding from this grant transforming North Carolina schools?

The fact that we won a $400 million grant shows that North Carolina is positioned to be a national leader in updating and improving our K-12 education system. It builds upon a long history of innovation targeted toward creating future-ready schools and preparing future-ready students, going back at least to Gov. Hunt, who did so much for education in our State.

When you look at it, $400 million is not much money when compared to the state’s overall education budget, but because these funds are specifically designated for innovation-focused programs, the grant will play a key role in moving schools forward. It will enable North Carolina to:

  • put into place new ways to recruit, prepare and support teachers and principals, especially for our hardest-to-staff schools
  • extend the state’s already successful district and school turnaround initiatives
  • create a next-generation technology infrastructure to enhance teaching, learning, communication and management in our schools
  • build a statewide capacity to provide effective professional development, both face-to-face and online, to keep our education workforce up-to-date
  • provide tools for teachers to help diagnose student learning and personalize instruction provide a better data system to inform decisions at all levels, from the classroom teachers to the state policymakers

The combination of these things allows us to build capacities that will serve North Carolina well past the four-year period of the grant.

5) How will North Carolina begin to implement the proposal and what role will the Friday Institute play in the process?

Implementation of a program this ambitious requires careful preparation and deliberation. Just as the proposal development process drew upon the experiences and expertise of dozens of individuals and organizations, so, too, will the implementation process. Success will require the engagement and support of all the stakeholders, along with strong leadership. Since we just learned we won the grant on Tuesday, we’ve taken a day to celebrate before the real work begins. The good news is that work is well underway in some of the proposed areas. At NC State, Phil Emer at the Friday Institute has already been planning for the statewide transition to a cloud computer/support services infrastructure. Dr. Bonnie Fusarelli and Dr. Matt Millitelo, from the College of Education, have just launched the Northeast Regional Leadership Academy, which provides a new approach to recruiting, preparing and supporting leaders who will turnaround low performing schools. The NCDPI District and School Transformation Team, led by Dr. Pat Ashley, has recent data showing continued success of their approach. All of these programs and others will be extended through Race to the Top, along with many new initiatives.