From the North Carolina New Schools Project, shared Nov. 22:

The North Carolina New Schools Project, in partnership with the State Board of Education, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the N.C. Department of Community College System and local school districts, will use a prospective $15 million federal grant to help as many as 20 traditional high schools with lessons learned from the state’s growing number of early college high schools.

The U.S. Department of Education has selected NCNSP from among nearly 600 applicants as one of 23 organizations to share $150 million under the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) competitive grant program. The NCNSP project is the only proposal from North Carolina recognized for funding in this highly competitive grant program.

Final approval of funding from the Department of Education hinges on NCNSP’s success in securing additional financial support for the five-year initiative. Under the terms of the federal i3 program, grantees must also raise private support to receive the federal funds. NCNSP is in the process of seeking pledges totaling $1.5 million, or 10 percent of the total grant, to ensure that the state receives the funding.

Gov. Bev Perdue said she welcomes the effort, and is urging private support.

“I recently announced my Career & College Promise initiative that helps every qualified student prepare for a successful future, whether in college or in career training,” Perdue said. “The grant awarded to the North Carolina New Schools Project will help even more students prepare for life after high school.”

More than 20,000 students would benefit from the grant-supported effort.

“This is an affirmation of North Carolina’s early college high schools and a boost to the state’s efforts to bring similar opportunities to students in more communities where options are often limited,” said Tony Habit, president of the North Carolina New Schools Project. “We are delighted to partner with the State Board of Education, and N.C. Department of Public Instruction and higher education in this ground-breaking effort.”

With 74 early college high schools now open in 63 counties — from some of the state’s largest to some of its smallest, North Carolina claims about a third of the innovative schools nationwide. The mold-breaking schools allow students to earn an associate degree or significant college credit along with their high school diploma. The schools are intended to serve students who are often underrepresented in college, including those who are from low-income families, minorities and those whose parents didn’t attend college.

A multi-year research study of early colleges in North Carolina is finding strong evidence of success. Dropouts are few, and graduation rates are high. Solid academic achievement is reflected in test scores that exceed state averages as well as high rates of postsecondary enrollment. The study is also finding that the schools are helping to close gaps in achievement between white and minority students.

The North Carolina New Schools Project supports the 74 existing schools with coaches for teachers and principals and carefully designed professional development based on a set of proven design principles, all of which are aligned to an overarching goal of graduating all students ready for college, careers and life.

Under the new federal grant, NCNSP will help between 15 and 20 traditional high schools and up to 10 rural, low-income county districts where they are located apply many of the same strategies to raise expectations and achievement. Partners with NCNSP include the N.C. Community College System, the State Board of Education, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the SERVE Center at UNC-Greensboro, and participating school districts.

Each of the high schools will receive support similar to the early college high schools already affiliated with NCNSP. Teachers will learn to follow a proven common instructional framework that ensures consistent expectations and teaching approaches are followed in all classrooms. Students will be challenged to read, write, think and talk every day in every class.

One key goal of the initiative is for all students to graduate with at least 21 college credits, or the equivalent of about seven courses.

Early college high schools, typically located on the campus of a community college or university, are aimed at challenging students who are the first in their family to earn a college degree and who also need additional support to succeed academically.

The North Carolina New Schools Project is a statewide public-private partnership that sparks sustainable innovation in North Carolina secondary schools. Its vision is to ensure every student graduates ready for college, careers and life. The North Carolina New Schools Project partners with school districts, businesses and higher education to link innovation in education to the emerging economy.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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