North Carolina is in many ways a microcosm of the broader changes taking place in industrialized economies around the globe. Jobs in factories and mills are going away, and the jobs that are replacing them require a vastly different set of skills and knowledge. That’s where the North Carolina New School Project (NCNSP) comes in. The NCNSP, led by President Tony Habit, was established to accelerate the pace of innovation in the state, and to ensure that all students have access to high-quality schools that will prepare them fully for college, work and life. Habit and his team work with over 100 high schools in North Carolina helping students acquire the skills to think critically and communicate effectively.
“Transformation can’t happen in the old factory model of schooling,” says Habit, who is well schooled on what is working in education around the world. He and a group of delegates recently traveled to Finland to learn how that country created such a strong education system. What did they discover? According to Habit, “Kids must have a way to find security and a sense of safety and purpose. Finnish schools do that through the use of inquiry in the classroom, getting kids focused on meaningful work that requires them to go outside of their environment.”
We talked to Habit recently about what he’s learned through North Carolina’s bold experiment to re-invent its education system, and where they go from here.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
Our team advances the development of teachers and administrators to possess the knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs required to create learner-centered schools that are linked to the emerging economy. This includes a commitment that every student graduates ready for the next step in life.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
North Carolina now leads the nation in the development of effective early college high
schools, schools located on the campus of a college or university and targeting high-needs students. A growing cohort of our partner schools report no dropouts and graduation rates that exceed the state by more than 10%. Some schools graduate 100% of their students. More important, the accelerated pace of innovation in our state’s public schools has been fueled by the success of these innovative schools. Now, entire districts and regions are asking what is required to design all schools for these higher standards.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
It’s hard to overstate the significance of technology in the transformation of schools and of learning for students and adults. Across our network of partner schools, increasing the digitization of resources provides for the replacement of texts with tablets, of lectures with hands on learning, of workshops for teachers with distance education. Further, technology and the Internet allow for the emergence of communities of practice among teachers and school administrators. Our virtual space for resource sharing and problem solving, The Commons, provides educators with immediate solutions to challenges they confront in accelerating the learning of all students toward a college and work-ready standard.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
First, the knowledge and skill among teachers and principals presents the greatest barrier. For example, changing beliefs among educators that “all” actually means “all” is job one. Next, providing sustained and relevant learning for adults to incorporate the instructional strategies demonstrated to succeed with all students is crucial.
What is your state doing right to support education?
In North Carolina the race to link each school to the statewide fiber network provides immediate utility to the advancement of innovation. This investment of public funds will accelerate the pace of change in our public schools and higher education systems in ways that will overcome the relative wealth or geographic isolation of a community and its public schools.
What conditions must change in your state and country to better support education?
Education and the esteem of educators are diminished by the political process itself. In
our state and nation, partisanship and the misapplication of market models to K-12 schooling distracts attention from the essential work of building the capacity of teachers and allowing them to perform.
What’s next for NCNSP?
We’re focused on talent development for teachers and administrators; bringing in partners from the private sector to help prepare students for work beyond school and opening a network of STEM high schools focused on the healthcare, energy and pharma sectors.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The emphasis on inquiry and project-based learning most often results in deeper student engagement and in creating a “need to know” that fosters an intrinsic search for knowledge. As our society becomes increasingly complex as a result of globalization and the increasing influence of technology, students must master higher levels of both content knowledge and skills. Inquiry in the classroom serves these dual goals if teachers receive sustained support and high-quality training. The transition toward a more constructivist model of learning presents a greater challenge for teachers to link academic content to the essential questions and related projects and activities that drive student engagement. This work is exciting and very promising to elevate schools and classrooms to be places of learning for students and their teachers.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A tablet computer would come close to linking students to the sum total of human knowledge.
About Tony Habit,
President, North Carolina New Schools Project (NCNSP)North Carolina, USA
With over 20-years experience in public school innovation and reform, Tony Habit began his education career as a middle and high school counselor for special needs students. Dr. Habit was tapped to head the North Carolina New Schools Project in November 2003. Previously, he was president of Wake Education Partnership in Raleigh and was the founding executive director of the Durham Public Education Network. Habit was named an Eisenhower Fellow in 2000, and received the Lever Award in 2002 for his leadership in public-private partnerships to promote innovation in public schools.
Birthplace: Edenton, North Carolina
Current residence: Wake Forest, North Carolina
Education: Columbia University Teachers College, New York
Websites I check every day: New York Times, EdWeek
Person who inspires me most: So many…Bill Friday, President Emeritus of TheUniversity of North Carolina, former Governor Jim Hunt
Favorite childhood memory: Watching the moon landing on TV on July 20, 1969
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Uruguay to visit schools
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Every day!
Favorite book: Policy, Paradox and Political Reason by Deborah A. Stone
Favorite music: Bruce Springsteen; he is “The Boss”
Your Favorite quote or motto: “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear What you say.”