Education Opinion

Smart Cities: Raleigh/Durham

By Tom Vander Ark — April 01, 2013 7 min read
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Research Triangle Park (RTP) is the nation’s largest R&D center with 7,000 acres and 170 companies including DuPont, Glaxo, IBM, EMC as well as NIH,
EPA, and CDC. The triangle refers to three top-notch universities: Duke in Durham, UNC In Chapel
Hill, and NC State in Raleigh. There’s also NC Central ( an HBCU), a leader in biomanufacturing.

Despite one of the most significant confluence of innovators on the planet, there are relatively few education innovators in the capital region but there
are a handful of cool schools and a group of nationally important impact organizations profiled below.

An introduction to education in North Carolina would be incomplete without a focus on four term governor James B. Hunt. I meet Gov. Hunt in 1999, the year he
called for the state to be first in America by 2010--and he handed me a little blue book with the formula. His leadership was instrumental in boosting NC
achievement from near the bottom to above national averages (along with the rise of the south spurred by a notable group of education governors including
Bush (2), Clinton, and Riley).

The improvement wrought from the standards-based agenda--high expectations, assessment, disaggregated data, aligned instruction, strong
accountability--resulted in improved achievement particularly for low income students. But we’ve reached the limits of that approach. Big differences in
execution and schools rapidly becoming obsolete make the case for step function improvement from innovation. This Smart Cities series celebrates hard
fought improvements but is in search of innovation--new tools and schools and the edupreneurs making them possible.

Cool Schools.
Rocky Mount Prep
is a K-12 school east of Raleigh that over the summer transitioned to a blended learning model that is a combination of Rocketship and Carpe Diem. They did a nice job
combining three classroom pods into big open learning spaces over the summer.

Voyager Academy Charter School
in Durham, is a project-based learning school that has about 1,250 students across grades K-11. Final work product “is expected to be high quality, show
real-world connections, and represent a student’s best effort,” said teacher Toni Shellady.

Adam Renfro, North Carolina Virtual and Getting Smart blogger (@AdamRenfro), appreciates:

  • The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
    is a free public residential high school serves exceptional juniors and seniors as part of the UNC System. They also offer online classes that students
    across the state can take. Their director of distance learning, Ross White, was the former CEO of the North Carolina Virtual Public School.

  • Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School
    is located on the technology park’s campus at NC State University. This organization provides an exemplary educational community, one that encourages
    students and staff members to actively discover, integrate and apply knowledge in a dynamic global and technological environment.

  • Moore Square Museum Magnet Middle School
    is a magnet school in downtown Raleigh based on Paideia Principles. Students work on many museum projects and shadow government workers in the downtown
    capitol buildings.

For 15 years Cary Academy has been a tech leader. For the last six years, the private school launched by Jim
Goodnight from SAS has been 1:1 PC tablets. It helps to have a tech team of 13 staff members.

North Carolina has five Performance Learning Centers including one in Durham. Piloted by Communities In Schools of Georgia, the PLC network was extended to North
Carolina with a Gates Foundation Grant. PLCs are (what we’d now call) flex schools--small,
non-traditional high school geared toward students who are not succeeding in a traditional school setting.

Raleigh is the home base of the North Carolina Virtual Public School, the second largest state virtual school. The
state finally cleared the way for full time virtual charters but with ridiculously low funding of about $3,500 (the equivalent of eight, full-year courses
from NCVP at $438 per course).

Impact Orgs.
The triangle is home to five nationally important reform groups:

  • The James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy
    (where I was a founding board member) has been the leader on clear high national standards for college and career readiness and preparing future
    statewide education leaders. CEO Judy Rizzo worked with Rudy Crew in Tacoma, WA and NYC before helping Gov. Hunt form the institute in 2001.

  • The William & Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation
    at NC State’s College of Education develops resources and PD programs for educators. With the Alliance
    , they created

    Digital Learning Transition MOOC-Ed

    , running from April 8 through May 24, to help districts implement blended learning. Their Executive Director, Glenn Kleiman, is a key player in these
    discussions and played a lead role in developing the state’s winning Race to the Top application.

  • Public Impact
    , led by Bryan and Emily Hassel, is a team of researchers, thought leaders, and tool-builders. As the Malcolm Gladwells of education, they routinely
    point out the important truths right in front of us. Project like Opportunity Culture --which help schools
    leverage great teaching with technology--lay the groundwork for the future.

  • SAS
    is a Cary-based software giant that for the last 14 years has been investing in and providing free resources for education. SAS Curriculum Pathways offers free content in all subjects grades 6-12. Some is a
    bit dated but worth checking out.

  • Center for Teaching Quality
    , Chapel Hill, is an ‘action tank’ cultivating teacherpreneurs that “lead
    but don’t leave.”

Durham Public Schools
, led by Eric Becoats (a finalist in PGCPS), is chugging along under astrategic plan focused on continuous improvement. However, the larger Wake County Public Schools (Raleigh and Cary) has roiled in race politics.
After a decade of busing students to desegregate schools, board politics flipped in 2010 and the district returned to attendance areas. Former army general
and Broad-trained Tony Tata was hired only to be fired 20 months
later when board politics flipped again. The 150,000 student remain assigned to one of 169 ‘base schools’ by address.

, the state chapter of 50CAN, is running its first state advocacy campaign this year, focused on improving teacher
evaluations, reforming teacher tenure, and rewarding effective teachers. Communities in Schools (CIS) has affiliates in
Durham and Wake County.

Christopher Gergen
has been a force in seeding entrepreneurship in the Triangle (in and outside of education), helping create ecosystems for social innovation and offer
support to social innovators in Raleigh (see HUB Raleigh) and Durham (see Bull City Forward). Christopher has been instrumental in the charter work of Parents for Educational Freedom of
North Carolina and the creation of the NC Public Charter School Accelerator. But for all the R&D
and entrepreneurship in the Triangle, there’s not much edtech.

Raleigh just hosted the state’s first StartupWeekendEDU in early March and its first inBloom camp and
codeathon (3/23-3/24). Catch the NCtech4Good conference in June.

There are a handful of well-positioned assessment companies in the area:

  • Measurement Inc. is a respected assessment company in Durham.

  • Metametrics
    , Durham, is an assessment R&D shop that developed the widely used Lexile scale for reading as well as Quantile for math.

  • EdTech Systems
    , Raleigh, provides online support for formative and benchmark assessments.

Wireless Generation/Amplify
opened a 65-person office in Durham in fall 2011.

Triangle region schools are either making incremental progress or are whipsawed by politics. Digital learning and innovative options (not busing) holds the
promise for step function improvement and more equitable education.

This series has demonstrated the weak correlation between the idea economy and innovations in learning. The Triangle (like San Francisco, Austin, Portland,
and Seattle) makes the case for weak innovation diffusion from tech to education--proximity does not promote permeability.

Education innovation is most often a function of leadership--brave school leaders, and skilled assistance providers, and insightful funders. Schools like
Centennial, Moore Square, Rocky Mount Prep, and Voyager are showing the way. Friday Institute and Public Impact have shifted focus to an innovation agenda.
There is a base of online educators that understand personalized and competency-based learning. The groundwork is laid for a regional advance.

Joe Ableidinger and Adam Renfro supported development of this post.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.