Race To The Top Funding

The Obama administration under Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made $4.35 billion available to districts that demonstrate they are making progress in four areas:

  1. Standards and Assessments
  2. Data Systems to Support Instruction
  3. Great Teachers and Leaders
  4. Turning Around Struggling Schools

We have real work to do in order to have even a remote chance of winning any of this money. There are two absolute requirements: 1) approval of state applications in Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, and 2) no statutory or regulatory barriers to linking data about student achievement to teachers and principals for the purposes of evaluation.

Governor Gregoire has decided to not spend the time necessary to prepare an application for round 1, as we are assured of not winning. Winning in Round 2 will require the legislature to pass some changes. Fortunately we have met the absolute requirements. I inserted an amendment to a bill 2 years ago that requires school districts to report data linking students to teachers, classes taken, and principals. It’s taking a while to collect this, but we are getting there piece by piece.

To get any of this money we believe that we will have to make the following changes:

  • Allow the Superintendent of Public Instruction to intervene in schools that are chronic failures. If a particular school fails children for generations, the state should be able to take action, relieving the local district of control if necessary. This has been blocked by state law for more than a decade.
  • Make changes to how teachers are assigned to schools to ensure that there is equitable distribution of highly-qualified teachers to low-performing schools. The opposite tends to be true. Marguerite Roza at the University of Washington has done interesting work in this area.
  • Report on the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs. I expect this to be difficult, as there isn’t much data available. A lot of the data about teacher certification is still stored on microfiche in the basement of the OSPI building, making it difficult to link the student achievement data together with the information about which school a teacher went to.
  • Differentiate teacher and principal effectiveness based on student growth and use that data for compensation, evaluation, and tenure decisions. This sounds like a no-brainer, but is really, really difficult to implement in a fair way. I was part of a group of legislators made a proposal on this last year as part of a comprehensive plan to revamp our compensation system. We may have reached further than people were willing to go, but to get this money I believe we will need significant effort here.
  • Promote charter schools. This won’t happen. I am hopeful that the scoring system doesn’t depend totally on this, but after the defeat at the polls in 2004 I don’t expect any significant change here.

I’m not particularly hopeful that we’ll get any of the money, but agree with most of the proposals, or at least in their direction. We are still working out how these changes will be proposed in legislation. More as we work out the details.

About the Author

Ross
I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.