Ok, we didn’t win, but apparently we were in third place, which, as the governor’s office just told me in an e-mail, “…puts us in great position to win in Round 2.”
Only Delaware and Tennessee won Race to the Top grants, meaning that not only Georgia was shut out, but the presumed favorite, Florida.
This is a blow to the governor and school Superintendent Kathy Cox, both of whom were confident that Georgia had the goods to nab one of the lucrative grants. But the governor’s spokesman says we are in a great position to win in the next round when the remaining $3 billion is doled out to states.
I wonder if size mattered in that smaller states and enrollments seemed easier to manage. Delaware only has 127,000 students in 204 schools, including 30 high schools, six vo-tech schools, 39 middle schools, 96 elementary schools, 14 kindergarten and early childhood facilities and 16 special schools.
I am surprised at the choices as neither Tennessee or Delaware has been held up as a top model of reform. The two states that had a lot of buzz were Louisiana and Florida.
However, what the two winners have in common is more advanced teacher evaluation systems.
Tennessee has a student data system that can connect student performance/progress to specific teachers, so it is ahead of the game in the “value-added” approach to evaluations, a key plank of the U.S, DOE RTTT criteria. Delaware already has a statewide annual teacher evaluation system and agreed to now look at student growth in its evaluations.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The fact that just two states won will placate critics, who warned that the administration appeared to be watering down its own standards for the awards. Skeptics have also raised concerns that the Race to the Top program, a cornerstone of the administration’s education policy, would reward states making big promises instead of only those best prepared to impose real change.
Delaware originally sought $107 million to help pay for a plan to turn around its worst schools. Tennessee sought $502 million. The administration appeared to put a very high value on applications that had won wide support from unions and school boards within their states. Florida’s bid, for instance, received the support of just 8% of its unions.
The administration made its selection from a list of 16 finalists, which also included the District of Columbia, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.
And from the Wilmington News Journal in Delaware:
To make Delaware more competitive for the grant, Gov. Jack Markell proposed — and the state Board of Education approved — regulatory changes to how failing schools are restructured and educators are evaluated.
The state also recently partnered with the Boston nonprofit Mass Insight Education and Research Institute for a turnaround program for failing schools.
Under Mass Insight’s plan, schools would work with an outside organization, called a “lead partner,” which would be given broad authority over operations of failing schools. Methods to turn around the school could include changing the principal and half the staff or converting a failing school into a charter. The proposal of a lead partner has caused tension between the state and Delaware’s largest school employee union, the Delaware State Education Association.
And from the Washington Post:
Georgia, ranked third in the contest, and Florida, considered a favorite to win, fell just short of a threshold for awards that Duncan set himself. More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and they could win some in a future round.
Duncan’s decision to name only two initial winners gives the Obama administration continued leverage to upend the status quo in public education. It also squelches any suggestion that Duncan would seek to spread the money around as much and as fast as possible to help Obama win favor in key political states.
Ohio, Pennsylvania and dozens of others have come up empty so far in their bids for school reform aid. Delaware is the home state of Vice President Joe Biden, but administration officials have said repeatedly that politics would play no role in the contest.
And from The New York Times:
Mr. Duncan has insisted that political influence would play no part in the competition. But by choosing two states led by Democratic governors, and by eliminating two strong contenders, Florida and Louisiana, both governed by Republicans, the administration might face grumbling.
Andy Smarick, a Republican who served in the White House and in the department under President George W. Bush, said: “I don’t think that political influence was a primary determinant here, but it could have had a secondary effect because the Democratic leadership in both states got all or almost all of their educational establishments to sign on.”
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, was able to negotiate the state’s teacher evaluation plan with the teachers unions, thus strengthening his state’s proposal, Mr. Smarick said. Delaware’s plan, too, got virtually 100 percent backing from the teachers unions, he said.
Florida and Louisiana also put forward strong proposals. But the largest teachers union in Florida urged its locals not to support the plan. And in Louisiana, only 28 of the state’s 70 districts supported the state’s plan, which alarmed local officials by calling for forceful interventions in hundreds of failing schools.