Acknowledging North Carolina’s efforts to overhaul its education system to meet the demands of the 21st century, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has again given the state’s high schools more than $10 million, Gov. Mike Easley announced May 23.

The latest grant of $10.4 million grant comes after an $11 million contribution from the foundation in 2003 to jump-start high school improvements, develop teacher curriculum, and offer students more relevant courses.

“This is a totally different economy today than it was five years ago,” Easley said. “We have to do a better job of educating our kids and giving them the tools to compete.”

Since the original gift, North Carolina has opened 11 small campuses at existing high schools as a part of its New Schools project. An additional 21 campuses are scheduled to open in the fall, and 20 others will start up next year. The new campuses, designed for less than 400 students each, are academically rigorous, each with a different focus: biotechnology, information technology, international studies, and a variety of math, science, and engineering-based career paths.

All students participate in internships and other programs based on the recommendations of the Center for 21st Century Skills, a public-private partnership that has helped guide the curriculum makeover.

“We go out into the business community and ask: ‘What do you need from our high school graduates that you are not getting?'” Easley said. “We have to be a lot more nimble and flexible than we have been in the past.”

With the additional money in hand, the New Schools project now hopes to create an additional 150 reformed high schools across the state over the next five years. Each school goes through one year of planning, followed by five years of implementation.

The foundation grant includes $9 million to continue the New Schools project and $1.4 million to expand Easley’s Learn and Earn program, which gives students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma along with an associate’s degree or college credit. Easley wants 75 Learn and Earn schools in the state by 2008.

“There is not a state in the country that has better and broader leadership from the business community, the teachers’ association, and higher education,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of education for the Gates Foundation. “The good news is, we’re going to keep coming back. We intend to be a long-term partner here.”

The Center for 21st Century Skills grew out of North Carolina’s relationship with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national nonprofit advocacy group consisting of 26 organizations and corporations. The Partnership has developed a framework for the skills today’s students need to succeed in the 21st-century workplace–and it’s this framework that has helped guide the center’s efforts.

North Carolina is one of two states to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. West Virginia is the other (see “West Virginia focuses on 21st century learning,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6233).

Bill Gates is the chairman of software giant Microsoft Corp. His wife, Melinda, is a graduate of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

To date, their foundation has donated about $1 billion worldwide to education initiatives.

Links:

New Schools Project
http://www.newschoolsproject.org

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org

Gov. Mike Easley
http://www.governor.state.nc.us