NC wins federal grant to improve instruction during school disruptions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Staff reports

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the N.C. Department of Public Instruction a $17.6 million grant to develop innovative instructional approaches to better meet student needs during disruptions to schooling such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

North Carolina is one of 11 states to share in $180 million under the federal Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant program to support states’ efforts to improve teaching and learning during the current crisis as well as others that may occur in the future. The other 10 states to be awarded grants, ranging from $6 million to $20 million are Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas.

In North Carolina, the grant will fund an initiative to create a statewide “blended” instructional model that will combine both remote and in-person instruction. According to the state’s grant proposal, the effort is aimed at stabilizing or improving student achievement during disruptions to regular school, to better prepare teachers for digital-age instruction and to strengthen preparedness by schools and communities for events that may interrupt student learning. The effort will focus primarily on 45 of the state’s most rural and economically disadvantaged communities.

“I appreciate the hard work of the staff at DPI to make this grant possible so that we can meet our students’ instructional needs,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said. “These funds will go a long way to making sure that students and teachers in North Carolina are prepared despite the disruptions that could affect normal instruction and learning.”

The state’s “Light the Way” blended instructional model will use grant funds to build teacher capacity through a high-quality professional development certification process, provide new standards-aligned virtual course content that focuses on grades kindergarten through eighth grade with a particular focus on both online and off-line learning options to reinforce equity of access. The effort aims also to provide mobile-friendly learning resources and technical assistance for parents.

By the end of the North Carolina’s nearly three-year initiative, more than 50,000 teachers statewide — about half the state’s teaching force — are projected to have received specialized support in the blended learning model. While all districts and charter schools will have open access to instructional training and content resources through the program, targeted assistance will be provided to the state’s 45 most economically distressed and rural counties.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a statement that the coronavirus pandemic demands innovation from local education leaders with a clear focus on student needs.

“This grant will help states adapt and overcome challenges to strengthen education both now and for the longer term,” DeVos said. “If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that the antiquated one-size-fits-all approach to education is no longer tenable, and education going forward must be more adaptable and student-centered. I want to congratulate today’s awardees for making the needed effort to rethink education on behalf of their students.”

Applications were evaluated by a panel of independent peer reviewers, and the highest-scoring applications received funding. Given the nature of the national emergency, states with the highest coronavirus burden were prioritized.