SOE News

From the dean: Race to the Top

By the time you read this, Governor Perdue will have submitted North Carolina's Race to the Top proposal to the U.S. Department of Education. The development of the proposal was a long, complex process, orchestrated with extraordinary skill by Dr. Glenn Kleiman, executive director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.

Glenn and the leadership team ─ that included State Superintendent June Atkinson, State Board Chair Bill Harrison, and Myra Best, the Governor’s educational policy advisor ─ did a thorough job of reaching out to multiple constituencies in the state, including higher education. This apparently was not the case in other states where higher education was either shut out or marginalized in the Race to the Top proposal development process. That higher ed played a major role speaks, I believe, to a widely held view that the North Carolina’s higher ed institutions can play a vital role in helping low-performing schools turn around.

If funded, Race to the Top will enable schools, especially low-performing schools, to build on several new initiatives in the state. One of these is adoption of the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, the United States will have a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. That means that the families of students in very low-wealth counties like Robeson and Halifax will be assured that their children are held to the same standards as students in the wealthiest districts in the country.

The Race to the Top proposal also relies on the newly created teacher and principal evaluation processes. These processes, developed for the state by Mid-Continent Educational Laboratory, are based on “best-practices” research. The validity of the processes in predicting educator impact on student learning is currently being tested by comparing the evaluation scores of educators with state assessment results for their students. Having a valid and reliable means of determining educator impact on learning is essential to improving instruction.

Another initiative involves getting high-quality technical assistance to schools that most need additional support. Among the strategies included in the proposal is using LEARN NC, the School of Education’s online resource for educators, to provide learning opportunities for educators, particularly those in more remote districts that do not have easy access to university campuses and other sources of knowledge and assistance. Under the direction of Jim Barber and, now, Melissa Thibault, LEARN NC constitutes an invaluable asset in offering educators, wherever they are, access to the latest research-based practices, curricula, information and networking opportunities.

Whether or not North Carolina is awarded a Race to the Top grant, the process prompted a remarkable amount of collaborative thinking and planning that will inform efforts to improve learning for years to come. The schools of education across the UNC system have the resources and the desire to play major roles in that improvement, through our research, our educator preparation and our collaboration with P-12 educators. Those of us in Chapel Hill ─ as well as our graduates ─ are intent on improving our work in all three areas.

Note: In addition to Dean McDiarmid, other School of Education faculty and staff members and a doctoral student also participated in the development of North Carolina’s Race to the Top proposal:

  • Kathleen Brown, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
  • Trip Stallings, Ph.D. student
  • Melissa Thibault, Executive Director of LEARN NC
  • Lynne Vernon-Feagans, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood, Intervention and Literacy
  • Ross White, Associate Director of LEARN NC