November 10, 2009

/ 10 November 2009 / Parents United
November 10, 2009

Update for November 10, 2009 — From Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
~ Race to the Top Grants ~


In This Issue

Selection Criteria

“These are all our children and we
will profit by or pay for whatever they become.”

— James Baldwin

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Race to the Top Grants: What are they?
As part of the state stabilization funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Race to the Top grants are federal grants totaling $4.35 billion that will be awarded through a competitive process to 10-15 states. Half of the funds must go to “Local Education Agencies” (LEAs), that is, school districts or charter schools. However, only a state’s department of education can apply for the Race to the Top funds.

There are two phases for the grant application. The first applications are due winter of 2009 with grants awarded in early 2010.  The second round of applications will be accepted in spring 2010 with awards following later in September.

Right now, these Race to the Top grants are known and being talked about at the legislature, at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), and amongst educators — somewhat. But the general public knows little about them, and that needs to change. The implication of receiving one of these grants is significant. (More specifics on the grants)

In this issue


Intent of Race to the Top Grants

From the U.S. Department of Education:

“The ARRA provides $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers; and implementing ambitious plans in four core education reform areas:

  • Adopting internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools.”

The $4.35 billion dollar Race to the Top program that we are unveiling today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to create incentives for far-reaching improvement in our nation’s schools. For states, for district leaders, for unions, for business, and for nonprofits, the Race to the Top is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot. And the administration is determined – I am determined – not to miss this opportunity ….
—U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

The New Teacher Project has done an analysis of the Race to the Top grants as well as the competitiveness of various states to win the grants.

In this issue


Laudable Aspirations and Valid Concerns
Closing the achievement gap; reforming struggling schools; getting the best teachers into classrooms where there is the greatest need; training teachers and principals in the use of data and supporting them; working to get top leadership in schools of greatest need; increasing autonomy of these schools to keep their teacher teams; developing a statewide data system to track achievement and use the data to understand and access teacher/principal preparation programs; using data to help students achieve; dealing with struggling schools — all of these efforts and many more that this grant addresses are wonderful aspirations. But we must carefully consider the implications of something that “is the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.” (Arne Duncan, above)

Two thoughts:

  1. Is there a reasonable assurance that these prescriptive strategies will work? Parts of this grant are very prescriptive and we should ask if the reforms the grant will pay for have proven to be effective. An example may be: What criteria will be used to determine which schools are considered the lowest performing schools? According to the grant, 5% of those schools will need to be “closed, turned over to an education management organization, restructured or chartered.“ Is there evidence that shows increased student performance is achieved by turning over a struggling school to an education management organization? </p>
  2. Does the state legislature have a role in the grant process? Does the legislature have a role in what the Minnesota Department of Education commits the state to over the four-year term of the grant? At this point the answer appears to be “No.”

    The grant application must be made by a state department of education and signed off on by the State Board of Education as well as various stakeholders. I assume the reason for this is demonstration of public commitment for the initiatives. But Minnesota does not have a State Board of Education* or a process for acceptance by our elected officials — so where is Minnesota’s public commitment for these reforms?

    This question becomes even more important when one considers that the grant lasts for four years and after that the state must pick up the costs. Are these the reforms that the Minnesota Legislature believes have a likelihood of success and therefore will back when the grant dollars disappear? Or will we once again be dealing with education reforms by fits and starts? 

    *Minnesota is the only state in the union without a State Board of Education or an elected Commissioner of Education. </li> </ol>

    In this issue


    Selection Criteria
    There are 19 selection criteria that the US Department of Education proposes for states to address when submitting their applications. Each is outlined below.

    Standards and Assessments
    1. Developing and adopting common standards
    2. Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments
    3. Supporting transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments

    Data Systems to Support Instruction
    1. Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
    2. Accessing and using State data
    3. Using data to improve instruction

    Great Teachers and Leaders
    1. Providing alternative pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
    2. Differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
    3. Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
    4. Reporting the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
    5. Providing effective support to teachers and principals

    Turning Around Struggling Schools
    1. Intervening in the lowest-performing schools and LEAs (Local Education Agency)
    2. Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools
    3. Turning around struggling schools

    Overall Criteria
    1. Demonstrating significant progress
    2. Making education funding a priority
    3. Enlisting statewide support and commitment
    4. Raising achievement and closing gaps
    5. Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale, and sustain proposed plans

    Reform Plan Criteria
    * Raise student achievement and close achievement gaps
    * Build capacity to sustain and implement proposed reforms at both the state and local level.

    In this issue

    Check out all the News and Hot Topics at our website!

    Childhood has no rewind: Our children cannot go back to grade school and
    get another education when times are better and we all have more to give.
    When the playground is empty and the children are gone,
    either we will have sacrificed for them, or we won’t.”
    —from a Parents United poster

    Questions? Email Mary Cecconi

    Parents United for Public Schools
    1667 Snelling Avenue N., St. Paul, MN 55108

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