March 2021 From the Board Room

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From the Board Room: Activities of the NC Board of Education

MARCH 2021



The State Board of Education is comprised of the State Treasurer, the Lieutenant Governor and 11 citizens appointed by the Governor. This newsletter highlights the Board’s activities on behalf of the 1.5 million public school students in our state and the more than 100,000 educators who provide services to children. You may view all State Board of Education member and advisor information online. To access current and archived versions of From the Boardroom, visit the State Board of Education’s website.


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New DPI Guidebook Promotes Equity and Excellence in Gifted Education in NC Public Schools


The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Division of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education has issued a newly expanded guidebook to promote equity and excellence efforts for gifted education programs in North Carolina schools.


“We must assure that students’ racial, ethnic, economic, or other demographic factors do not reduce their likelihood of access and successful participation in advanced programming,” said Sneha Shah-Coltrane, director of Advanced Learning and Gifted Education, in presenting the guidebook to the State Board of Education during its regular meeting this month.


The resource, a Call to Action: Equity and Excellence Guidebook, includes promising practices already in use by schools across North Carolina and an annotated bibliography that serves as the research and scholarship base for the actions. Built upon the fall 2019 Call to Action: Critical Actions to Realize Equity and Excellence, this expanded guidebook will help schools use equitable practices for identifying gifted students, provide a range of services, foster talent development opportunities, and other actions to increase access and opportunity, which increases achievement and growth for all.


“This book highlights initiatives that schools across North Carolina are taking to address issues of equity and excellence,” Shah-Coltrane said. “This guidebook will help schools take meaningful actions towards ensuring all North Carolina students are appropriately challenged all day, every day. This is just a start, and we hope to have even more promising practices to share over the next few years.”


Inequities rooted in larger society have plagued education for decades, often leading to inequitable representation in gifted programs. North Carolina continues its efforts to change mindsets, policies and practices as part of a multi-year strategic initiative so that all students have opportunities to reach their full potential.


A first-of-its kind, this new guidebook can serve as a resource to school districts and state agencies elsewhere working to create services for gifted students in underrepresented population groups.


“The language and alignment with evidence-based practices provide the practicality that school district administrators and resource teachers of the gifted need to both examine and reframe their program services to ensure that gifted students from marginalized groups are provided access to gifted and advanced learner programs,” said Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, an author and consultant in diversity and gifted education.


“As a state-agency resource, this guidebook has potential to be replicated across the nation at a time when other states and local practitioners are challenged to ensure that gifted education services are accessible to all populations across culture, race and income backgrounds,” Dr. Lawson Davis said.


Ultimately, the Call to Action: Equity and Excellence Guidebook will help assure that student racial, ethnic, economic, or other demographic factors do not reduce their likelihood of access and successful participation in advanced programming. It will also guide North Carolina’s school districts and charter schools as they revise their local plans for how they identify and serve academically and intellectually gifted students. Regularly scheduled revision of these plans will begin in this fall.


To view the new, expanded Call to Action: Equity and Excellence Guidebook, click here.


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State Board Wants Waiver from State Accountability Rules if Federal Waiver Granted


The State Board of Education authorized the Department of Public Instruction at its regular meeting this month to ask the General Assembly to waive state accountability requirements this year if the U.S. Department of Education grants the state a one-year exemption from federal accountability rules.


States were told last month that because of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education would consider waiver requests from requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act.


Student testing will continue, but if the waiver requests are approved, the results of those tests will not be used to hold schools, teachers or students accountable to federal reporting requirements about the annual performance of students and schools.


Under the waiver from federal requirements, the state would not need to report:



  • Progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators,
  • Annual meaningful differentiation among schools using data from the 2020–21 school, year
  • Participation requirement of testing at least 95% of all students and subgroups of students



If similar waiver requests are approved by the N.C. General Assembly, the State Board of Education would not be required to assign A-F school performance grades and other school-level accountability measures based on student end-of-grade and end-of-course exams.


The Board had previously directed DPI to seek a waiver from certain federal accountability rules under the previous administration, including the requirement that at least 95% of students participate in annual testing.


Before approving the step to seek a waiver from state requirements, DPI Accountability Director Tammy Howard presented results from first-semester administrations of end-of-course tests given to high school students and beginning-of-grade tests, given to third graders, typically near the start of the school year. With few exceptions, the results showed lower performance than the previous fall, with higher percentages of students falling short of passing levels.


Howard told board members that even as schools and educators have been making exceptional efforts to overcome the challenges caused by the pandemic, the loss of face-to-face instruction for many thousands of students has had an impact on student learning – as measured by the state tests.


“We all know the context of this school year,” Howard said. “Everything is being done as much as possible to optimize learning opportunities, and we know how diligently hard everyone is working to do that.


“But to go from a face-to-face model that has been in place for decades and go to this model this year of a blended learning environment – it’s quite an accomplishment that we’ve been able to do it at all,” she said. “We have to look at these test results within that context.”


Typically, Howard said, a decline in performance would prompt questions about what had happened with instruction or support.


“But in this context, of this year, I think everything is being done and this information kind of grounds us as to where we are to have conversations about where we need to go in providing support and services,” she said.


Board member Wendell Hall said he agreed that the test results need to be viewed within the context of this year’s unusual circumstance.


“We shouldn’t be overreacting,” Hall said, “but we should be concerned.”



Board Renews 18 Charter Schools; Members Question Duration of Some Renewals


Based on recommendations from the state’s Charter School Advisory Board, the State Board of Education approved 18 renewed charters ranging from 10 years to five years.


While all board members voted to approve the renewal recommendations for the schools with charters that expire this year, two members questioned the length of charter renewals for two schools that had failed to achieve expected academic growth in recent years. Both of the schools had their charters renewed for five years instead of a three-year period favored by at least two board members.


After raising concerns about the duration of the charters, Vice Chairman Alan Duncan won board agreement to direct the charter advisory board and DPI charter staff to review the renewal process and make recommendations to the board later this year.


During the debate over the recommended length of charter renewals, board member Jill Camnitz said she believed a three-year period would have been more appropriate than five years for the two schools in New Hanover County – Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington and Coastal Preparatory Academy – because of academic issues reflected in the performance grades for both schools.


“I’m not seeing a lot that gives me faith that those schools are doing what they need to be doing,” Camnitz said. But issues beyond the control of the schools also needed to be considered, said Dave Machado, director of DPI’s Office of Charter Schools, citing two hurricanes in recent years that disrupted the school year in that part of the state, as well as the pandemic.


Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said the performance information about the schools only underscores her belief that the state’s accountability system is fundamentally flawed.


“This is exactly why we need to revise our school accountability system because these grades mean nothing,” Truitt said. “I understand having concerns, but I could look at the “A” school and say, what does that mean?”


Duncan said he was concerned about schools failing to achieve expected academic growth and also failing to meet what he said were standards for three-year renewals but then being recommended for five-year renewal periods.


“I want to give them a chance,” he said, “but I just hesitate to give them five years when they haven’t met the three-year renewal – that’s my hold-up. That’s my concern. They fully deserve a chance to go forward with renewal.”


Approved for renewal


10-year charter renewals:



  • Global Scholars Academy
  • Healthy Start Academy
  • Mallard Creek STEM Academy
  • Matthews Charter Academy
  • Peak Charter Academy
  • Pine Springs Preparatory Academy
  • The Hawbridge School
  • Union Preparatory Academy at Indian Trail


7-year renewal:



  • Central Wake High School


5-year renewal:



  • Coastal Preparatory Academy*
  • Concord Lake STEAM Academy
  • FernLeaf Community Charter School
  • Gate City Charter
  • Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington*
  • Iredell Charter Academy*
  • Success Institute*
  • Union Day School
  • Unity Classical Charter


Board Enthusiastic About Promoting “Case Method” Approach to Teaching U.S. History


Members of the State Board of Education expressed support for a Harvard-based approach to teaching U.S. history that its developer calls a powerful tool for raising levels of civic understanding and engagement among young people.

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The Board heard a detailed presentation from David Moss, a professor at the Harvard University Business School, who adopted the “case method” used in the business school’s courses to teach American history to Harvard undergraduates and later to supporting high school teachers to take a similar approach in their classes in U.S. history


“The methodology presents a unique opportunity to help reverse the broad decline in civic education and civic engagement in the United States,” board member Jill Camnitz said in introducing Moss, “by offering students and teachers a more exciting, relevant and effective experience while engaging with topics in history and democracy.”


So far, she said, the Harvard based, non-profit Case Method Project has been working with teachers in more than 300 public, private and charter schools in 44 states and supporting more than 750 teachers who are using the approach. The project works only with teachers who have an interest in adopting the approach.


Moss told the board that he decided to apply the business school’s “case method” approach to teaching history because it helps students view critical decisions from the past from the perspective of historical figures themselves, essentially putting them in their shoes.


“History is looking backward,” Moss said. “But life is lived looking forward. Life is full of uncertainty. We never know what is going to happen next.”


He said that the case method helps bring history to life for students while also forcing them to think about and analyze the issues confronting key players in history, such as the Founding Fathers.


“They didn’t know what was going to happen next,” Moss said. “When history is taught looking backward, it really can feel lifeless, and even irrelevant to students, and that’s a shame.”


He said that when you ask students to confront the decisions that key historical figures faced – and you don’t immediately tell them what happened, they feel the uncertainty and contingency of history.


“This was exactly how history was experienced,” Moss said. “But it makes it far more meaningful and relevant for students today because their lives are uncertain. They see the future as uncertain. The decisions they make – they don’t know what the results will be.”


He said the Case Method Project has grown from an initial group of 20 teachers who were recruited in 2015 for professional development and to use cases in their high school classes that he had developed for Harvard undergraduates. And as challenging as the cases are for high school students, he said, teachers have urged him against simplifying them.


“Students are digging into college-level material and making real progress,” Moss said. He said students say that while the cases are hard, they’re better than what they find in their textbooks.


The goal of the approach, he said, is not to tell students what conclusions to come to, but for them to reach their own conclusions within the historical context.


“A hallmark of a good case is to present the facts in as neutral a way as possible and the leave the analysis out,” Moss said. “Leave the analysis for the students. It’s about the students grappling with the material. It’s not about the teachers’ views.”


The result, he said, is that students sharpen and strengthen their own critical thinking skills and analytical abilities. He said that students exposed to the case method approach also show higher levels of civic interest and engagement.


In comments following Moss’ presentation, Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said that she was alarmed by survey data included in materials from the Case Method Project showing that one in four Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 think that having a democratic political system is not a good way to govern the country. She said that finding only underscores the need for an approach to teaching history helps strengthen civic understanding.


“I’m so excited for your non-profit and for future engagement between it and teachers in our state,” Truitt said.


Camnitz said she believed that DPI should take steps to promote the approach to teachers statewide.


“Let’s get right on this and create a method to disseminate this across our state and get North Carolina on board as quickly as we can to shifting towards this in classrooms where teachers are interested,” she said.


NC State Board of Education Seal

Board Approves Revised Budget Request to Add Funding for Key Needs


The Board this month approved revisions to its 2021-22 budget request from February to increase funding in a number of critical areas, including training for educators in the science of reading, additional compensation for school psychologists and for cybersecurity efforts for DPI and districts statewide.


Board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan, who serves as chairman of the board’s Business Operations Committee, told board members that since they approved their preliminary funding requests last month, the board has been made aware of additional needs that need to be included.


In all, the additional funding requests total about $50 million added to the $184.6 million in expansion requests that the board approved last month to help with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and to advance the board’s strategic plan, which sets these overarching goals:

  • Goal 1: Eliminate opportunity gaps by 2025
  • Goal 2: Improve school and district performance by 2025
  • Goal 3: Increase educator preparedness to meet the needs of every student by 2025


The budget request revisions include these:



  • Science of Reading training                                            $15.6 million
  • Competency-Based Education platform                           $2.9 million
  • School psychologist salary increases                              $10.1 million
  • Salary supplements for board-certified psychologists      $3.9 million
  • School nutrition co-pay for reduced-price meals              $3.9 million
  • Cybersecurity expansion and training                             $25.7 million
  • (Non-recurring cost for cybersecurity)                             $14.3 million
  • Governor’s School expansion                                            $1.6 million