November 9, 2007
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For more information contact:
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UNC, NC NEW SCHOOLS PROJECT PARTNER TO CREATE “LEARNING LABORATORIES” FOR HIGH SCHOOL INNOVATION
BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION GRANT WILL PERMIT FOUR NC HIGH SCHOOLS TO BECOME BEST PRACTICE MODELS
CHAPEL HILL – When North Carolina teachers and principals want to see firsthand what it takes to graduate all students ready for college, careers, and life, they will no longer need to visit high schools as far away as New York, Massachusetts, or California to learn what works, thanks to a new initiative announced Friday by the multi-campus University of North Carolina and the North Carolina New Schools Project (NCNSP).
Partnering UNC campuses and NCNSP will help four selected high schools become “learning laboratories” of best practice, enabling educators from other North Carolina schools to observe transformed teaching and learning that leads to higher graduation rates and higher performance among all students. The project will be aided by $2.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including $1.7-million to UNC for the joint initiative, and an additional $795,000 redirected by the NC New Schools Project from a previous foundation investment.
UNC President Erskine Bowles announced the investment and partnership during a regular meeting of the UNC Board of Governors. “In community listening forums held throughout the state as part of our UNC Tomorrow effort, we have heard a consistent and unmistakable plea that the University do more to help strengthen our public schools and raise the academic success and aspirations of our young people,” Bowles said. “The Learning Laboratory project will connect our campuses and their programs to the state’s foremost initiative to bring innovation to high schools and will help move that critical effort forward.”
Through the leadership of Gov. Mike Easley and the State Board of Education, North Carolina has emerged as a national leader in high school reform. Local school systems, the state’s University and community college systems, and others have worked with NCNSP to create 86 innovative high schools across the state that are in the early stages of rethinking instruction and student support. Four of these innovative schools will be selected as Learning Lab sites by a panel of national high school reform experts assembled by UNC and NCNSP. Two of these Learning Labs will be redesigned traditional comprehensive high schools, and two will be Learn and Earn early college high schools housed on community college or university campuses. Learn and Earn programs allow high school students to graduate with a diploma and up to two years of college credit.
Once the four Learning Lab schools are selected, each will be paired with a partnering UNC campus and its teacher education, educational leadership, and related programs. Working together, they will focus on developing these high schools as models of student achievement and other best practices found in leading national models. The goal is to create four highly effective, high-profile, and innovative schools that will push other redesigned and early college high schools to become more innovative. Through this ongoing collaboration, UNC teacher and school leader preparation programs will also gain insight into the reforms taking place in these schools and their implications for how best to train future teachers and school leaders.
Within two years, the four Learning Lab schools will be prepared to host visiting teachers and principals for “residencies” over several days, allowing them to observe and explore instructional practices used in the model schools. While NCNSP has used site visits of this sort extensively in its work with interested schools, North Carolina educators have needed to look outside the state to find schools that have been working on innovation for five years or more.
“Teachers and principals have told us time and again that their visits to schools reaching high levels of achievement with all of their students have been transformative to their professional beliefs,” said former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, NCNSP’s chairman. “When it comes to innovation, seeing really is believing. We need to provide those kinds of experiences routinely and on North Carolina soil.”
Early results from the initial group of 24 innovative high schools that opened in the 2005-06 school year show that many of them may have potential as Learning Labs. At least 15 of the schools had significantly lower dropout rates, higher 9th-grade promotion rates, higher percentages of students taking advanced math classes, and higher performance on end-of-course exams than comparable traditional high schools in their school districts.