Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who’s Winning the Race to the Top?

“This is a very, very difficult competition.
This is not a race to the middle.
This is a race to the top,
and we meant what we said."
--Arne Duncan

This from Thomas W. Carroll, president of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, in the City Journal:

Love for Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

...and likes Colorado, Georgia, Delaware and Michigan.

Calls the rest likely losers

After reviewing all the available state applications, totaling thousands of pages, I’ve grouped the 40 applying states (and D.C.) into three categories: very competitive (three states); competitive (four states); and likely losers (33 states, including four last-minute flameouts). With luck, both the winners and the losers in Race to the Top will prompt further education reform across the nation.

Three states submitted applications that strike me as very competitive: Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee. All three began sprinting around the education-reform racetrack long before the Race to the Top starting gun was even fired.

Over the past decade, Florida has consistently been among the nation’s most aggressive education-reform states. Among the pluses: Florida’s excellent accountability system for schools; annual testing in grades three and higher, instituted even before the adoption of the No Child Left Behind act; a longitudinal database containing student data from pre-K through age 20; a strong charter-school law that has enabled the state to open more than 400 charters serving almost 130,000 students, with no cap on the number of such schools; 19,500 students receiving special-education vouchers; and a tax-credit program for corporate donations to private-school scholarship programs benefiting more than 22,000 students. Florida’s application also provided the best “gap analysis”—that is, it identified precisely the next steps that the state would need to take to meet its Race to the Top expectations.

Louisiana, meanwhile, has been using a value-added model to track student achievement for three years. It has also participated in the development of the Common Core Standards Initiative; created alternative-certification routes that allow organizations other than education schools to give teachers credentials; improved its teacher pipeline through strong partnerships with The New Teacher Project and Teach for America; and experimented with performance-based compensation in 41 school districts. Louisiana has one of the nation’s strongest charter-school laws; among other things, it no longer caps the number of charter schools allowed in the state. New Orleans posts the highest charter-school market share in the nation, with 55 percent of its public-school students enrolled in charters.

In education circles, Tennessee is perhaps best known for the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), which has amassed 18 years of longitudinal data on student progress—an important advantage, given the importance that Race to the Top places on data. Tennessee also has drawn considerable attention for the aggressive efforts of Governor Philip Bredesen, a Democrat, to make his state more competitive for Race to the Top funding. In 2009, the governor pushed through revisions in the state’s relatively weak charter-school law, getting the cap on charter schools increased from 50 to 90. The law provides per-pupil facilities funding (something that many charter laws lack), and it extends the length of charters from five to ten years. For an encore, the governor—after hardball negotiating—signed legislation requiring districts to base at least 50 percent of their teacher evaluations on student test results and 35 percent on data from TVAAS...

In total, awards to these seven states (Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, Delaware and Michigan) would allocate almost half of the $4 billion in Race to the Top dollars, leaving about $2 billion unspent—giving other states another chance to adopt reforms in time for the June 1 second-round deadline...

No comments: