Monday, March 29, 2010

Race to the Top Winners ?

Race to the Top awards go to Delaware, Tennessee
By Nick Anderson and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 29, 2010; 4:27 PM

Delaware and Tennessee won the first shares of President Obama's $4 billion fund for education innovation and reform while the District of Columbia came in last among 16 finalists, federal officials announced Monday.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan picked the winners after a team of judges in the Race to the Topcompetition gave tiny Delaware the highest ranking, with Tennessee close behind. Delaware won as much as $107 million and Tennessee could be awarded $502 million.
The grants are the most significant move yet by the Obama administration to transform education in the United States, an issue that has moved nearer to the top of his domestic agenda with the passage of health-care reform.
Duncan acknowledged that the tiny winner's circle was designed as an incentive for other states to continue revamping their education policies. It also deflects suggestions that the administration would seek to spread the money around as quickly and widely as possible to help Obama win favor in key political states.
---- from the L.a. Times

California finished 27th among 41 applicants, a middling performance even among the group that failed to become finalists. California's application lost points in part because only 56% of school districts agreed to participate and because teacher union involvement was lower still.

Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois, among the other finalist states, came up short. Although Delaware is the home state of Vice President Biden, the administration has little at stake there politically.
Duncan praised Delaware and Tennessee as committed to reaching all of their school districts with programs designed to turn around struggling schools and install meaningful teacher evaluation systems tied to student achievement.
"They have demonstrated the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices," Duncan said in a conference call with reporters.
Georgia placed third in the contest, followed by Florida. More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and they could win money in the next round later this year. Duncan said he expects a significantly larger number of winning states in the second round, possibly 10 to 15.
Virginia, one of 41 first-round applicants, had failed to make the final 16. Maryland skipped the first round and is planning to compete in the second round
While Duncan said no one factor was decisive for Tennessee and Delaware, it was apparent that buy-in from teachers' unions and other key stakeholders was an important factor. Florida and Louisiana, both favored to win, did not have broad union support.
The same was true for the District, where Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker refused to sign the application because of his opposition to a new teacher evaluation system introduced last fall by Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
The competition generated its own version of "March Madness" among competing states. Lured by the prospect of tens, and even hundreds, of millions of dollars at a time of acute fiscal stress, some statehouses have moved to ease limits on autonomous public charter schools, revamp teacher pay and evaluation, expand the collection of student achievement data and take other steps in line with Obama's agenda.
"It absolutely has lit a fire," Duncan said of the state-level push toward reform.
But some analysts call the impact limited.
"The truth is, a handful of states made important changes to their laws," said Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank dedicated to improving K-12 schools. "A lot of states did nothing at all, and a good number did minor things to their laws."
Some states favor a tuneup, rather than a shake-up, for schools, a strategy that appears to weigh against them in the competition. Virginia proposed a modest expansion of charter schools and experiments with performance pay but was told to reapply. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has proposedsomewhat tighter rules for teachers to gain tenure, but it remains unclear how much that would help the state's chances.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R ) refused to apply, calling Race to the Top an unwarranted federal intrusion.
In the District, the public school system and public charter schools banded together to build on initiatives launched by Rhee. D.C.'s application said a grant award would be "a political win," signaling endorsement of the work Rhee has done in rolling out a rigorous new teacher evaluation system that will allow it to more easily remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
District officials also emphasized the city's compact size and the way that mayoral control of the school system would maximize the chances of federal dollars having an immediate and dramatic impact. Officials also pointed to Washington's fast-growing charter school sector, which is consistent with the emphasis Obama has placed on charters to spur competition.
But tensions between Rhee and the teachers' union over a new contract may have hurt the District's chances. Negotiations have dragged on for more than two years, although both sides say they are close to a tentative agreement.
Parker declined to sign the District's application, citing his opposition to the new IMPACT teacher evaluation system. Reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8 will have half their evaluations weighted toward annual growth in standardized test scores. Teachers with weak overall evaluations face dismissal.
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