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Hagan promotes turnaround strategy for schools

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is in Durham today to promote a model to reward schools that manage to turn around a low performance track record.

The Greensboro Democrat visits Hillside High School to announce the School Turnaround and Rewards Act, or STAR Act. The act would allow high-poverty schools to compete for federal funding to design innovative programs aimed at improving student performance.

By rewarding low-performing schools that lift their performance and work to close achievement gaps, Hagan argues, the proposed law would take the opposite approach of Bush-era No Child Left Behind, which took a punitive stance.

The STAR Act would codify the policies embedded in the Race to the Top competitive grant program in the U.S. Department of Education. In 2011, 17 North Carolina schools won School Improvement Grants through the federal government, including Hillside High, which received $4.7 million and has been a successful example of turnaround.

The STAR Act would be incorporated into the federal legislation that guides public schools, which is overdue for reauthorization. It's unclear what kind of chances it has this year.

Guilford, Iredell-Statesville schools get millions in 'Race to the Top' grants

Conventional wisdom suggests that part of any winning formula for education reform will include better uses of technology in the classroom.

A couple North Carolina school districts learned on Tuesday they will be rewarded for steps they’ve taken toward that end with multi-million dollar federal grants to put technology innovations on a fast track.

Guilford County Schools and Iredell-Statesville Schools are among 16 selected from 372 applicants across the country that will get a portion of a $400 million “Race to the Top” grant, the first time the program has been directed to individual districts instead of states.

Duncan: Make smart cuts, not dumb cuts

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says there's a smart way, and a dumb way, for schools to cut their budgets.

Speaking to several hundred journalists and education leaders in New Orleans today, Duncan said bad things are happening as schools reduce spending. Across-the-board cuts are not the way to go, he said. "That tells me you have no idea what's working and what's not," he said.

Duncan said too many states are cutting early childhood programs, which have shown positive results on student achievement. "That's the best investment we can make," he said. It's too easy for politicians to cut those programs, he said, because 4-year-olds don't vote, don't have lobbyists and don't spend millions of dollars.

Here are some things that shouldn't be done, he said: reducing the number of days in the school year, laying off veteran teachers because they cost more, or narrowing the curriculum by cutting art, music and foreign language instruction.

Here are some things that should be done, he said: cut outside the classroom, cut textbook purchases or pool health care plans across larger areas to save money.

Duncan gave a shout-out to Charlotte-Mecklenburg for its efforts to turn around low-performing schools. He said the district is concentrating on 20 schools, and he mentioned that he had talked to one retired principal who had returned to work in a low-performing school. "He said, 'This is the most moral and ethical work I've ever done.'"

He said good things are happening as more than 40 states have raised academic standards as a result of the Race to the Top grant competition. North Carolina received $400 million in the federal grant program aimed an innovation and improving student achievement.

"Race to the Top has led to more change in the last couple of years than the last couple of decades," he said.

Education grant money available to districts

Local school districts are eligible for half of the nearly $400 million of the state won in the federal Race to the Top education grant.

The school districts and charters eligible for a share of the money will also be contributing a total of $34.6 million toward a statewide computer framework intended to expand the districts' abilities to share ideas online. 

The amounts aren't guaranteed - the districts have to submit workplans and have them approved - but here, according to the state Department of Public Instruction, is what local school districts could get after their contributions to the technology project are deducted:

Wake County: $10.2 million

Durham County: $4.6 million

Johnston County: $2.6 million

Orange County: $271,523

Chapel Hill-Carrboro: $439,948

Perdue appoints members to new ed commission

Gov. Bev Perdue's office announced today that she signed an executive order creating the Governor's Education Transformation Commission.

The commission is to oversee use of the federal Race to the Top grant and coordinate grant-funded efforts with Perdue's "Ready, Set, Go!" program. Perdue can give the commission up to $30,000 from the grant to support its work.

The group is big - 25 members - including State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison. As previously announced, Harrison is its leader.

Plenty of the usual players will be seated around the giant meeting table: representatives from the school boards association, the PTA, and the N.C. Association of Educators, for example. 

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, State Superintendent June Atkinson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman, Education Cabinet Executive Director (and former state senator) Howard Lee, and Mark Sorrells, senior vice president of the Golden LEAF Foundation, are members, as are a couple of teachers of the year.

Voices from outside the echo chamber may come from Cynthia Marshall, state Chamber of Commerce chairwoman, the managing director of a Durham charter school, and Erin Swanson Oschwald, executive director of Teach for America/Eastern North Carolina.

School districts to get half of federal ed grant

The state learned this month it is getting slightly less than the $400 million maximum award it sought in the federal Race to the Top education grant competition.

The $399 million-plus hasn't arrived yet, said state Department of Public Instruction spokeswoman Vanessa Jeter, but when it comes about half will go out to local districts. 

Before they get any money, the districts have to tell DPI what they'll do with their share of the federal education grant, and explain how their spending will support state goals.

"There's a lot of work ahead and a lot of work going on right now, making sure that the local schools boards and the local school districts know what their next steps are," Jeter said. "It's a busy time."

Federal money pursuit continues

Yea, they won. But how much?

Education leaders did cartwheels last week upon hearing that the state won a competitive federal Race to the Top grant.

The award is going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the state isn't 100 percent sure to get the entire $400 million it asked for. On Sept. 12, state representatives will be back in Washington for final budget negotiations.

By Nov. 22, federal officials will have approved the final work plan, and local districts will start getting grant money, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.

The state was among 10 winners of the second round of the competition. In its application, the state said it would use the money to recruit and retain quality teachers and administrators, improve low-performing schools, and raise the graduation rate.

The feds will want monthly updates on how the state's improvement plan is progressing and how it is spending the money, Atkinson said.

Things are looking up for education in N.C.

ECSTATIC: That's the reaction of North Carolina educators after the state's win of $400 million in Race to the Top money. (N&O)

PRISONER CARE: The state could save big bucks if it required hospitals to bill Medicaid when prisoners are treated. (N&O)

WHAT NEXT FOR DIX?: Dorothea Dix Hospital will move out most of the psychiatric patients by the end of the year. Park proponents are happy. (N&O)

Perdue: N.C. will get $400 million

Gov. Bev Perdue said the state will receive about $400 million in federal money from the Race to the Top competition.

“North Carolina’s children today are one step closer to being guaranteed the best public education possible – something every child deserves," Perdue said in an announcement about the win. "This grant will give us the resources to more aggressively implement our plan to ensure that all of our children graduate ready for a career, college or technical training."

The money will be used in part to pay for Perdue's program, dubbed "Career and College: Ready, Set, Go!"

That includes money to recruit and retain teachers and administrators; a turnaround plan for low performing schools and technology used to track student progress in the classroom.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will talk to reporters about the the grant competition this afternoon.

"I thank Sec. Duncan for recognizing North Carolina’s ability to lead in education reform, and I thank everyone who worked so hard to make this possible,” Perdue said.

Perdue and state education leaders traveled to Washington earlier this month to make a pitch for the money.

North Carolina wins Race to Top

North Carolina has been named a winner of the national "Race to the Top” school  grant competition.

Other winners are Georgia, New York, Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Barb Barrett reports.

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

The amount of the grant has not been disclosed but the state applied for $400 million over four years.

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.

"Winning this Race to the Top funding demonstrates that North Carolina is among the most innovative states in the country when it comes to education," U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, said in a news release.

In its application, 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.

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."

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