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Let the Race Begin

On November 18th the Final guidelines and invitation for applications to the so-called Race to the Top competition were published in the Federal Register. The 102  page application for Phase I funding is due by January 19, 2010 less than eight weeks from now. The monetary stakes are high. According to the published non-binding estimates Connecticut can potentially tap into a range of money from $60 – $175 million. There are two preconditions: A state must have an approved application for stabilization funds, and at the time of applying, there must be not any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers at the state level to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for purposes of evaluation. The guidelines are pretty much as they were proposed, but the department did respond to some of the more contentious concerns raised in the comment period and many of the hard edges have been smoothed out.

Two issues that engendered strong responses in the comments submitted on the draft guidelines relate to the linkage of student test scores to teacher evaluations and the over emphasis on charter schools in the turnaround of  what are now designated as “Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools”.

The guidelines now seem much clearer on teacher evaluation indicating that test scores should only be one factor among multiple measures in determining teacher effectiveness including growth in student test scores. One clear signal in all this is that the conversation relating to teachers is shifting from qualifications to effectiveness. The teacher/principal quality initiatives in a states application are worth 138 possible points higher than any other area. Highly Effective Teachers are defined as follows:

Highly effective teacher means a teacher whose students achieve high rates (e.g., one and one-half grade levels in an academic year) of student growth (as defined in this notice). States, LEAs, or schools must include multiple measures, provided that teacher effectiveness is evaluated, in significant part, by student growth (as defined in this notice). Supplemental measures may include, for example, multiple observation-based assessments of teacher performance or evidence of leadership roles (which may include mentoring or leading professional learning communities) that increase the effectiveness of other teachers in the school or LEA.

Charter schools are now addressed separately in the “General” section of the Guidelines separate from the “Turning Around Lowest-Achieving Schools”.  Secretary Duncan on a number of occasions recently has been careful to point out that he is a strong advocate for good charter schools and for closing ineffective charters. Apparently charter school operators recognize that the business of turning around chronically failing schools on the scale envisioned by the secretary is a mission they are not prepared to accept. The 4th option in NCLB, the so-called “other” option, is back in the mix which allows for more local customization of the turnaround process and can be selected as a first option. There is a requirement, however, that the principal of a school identified or designated for turnaround be removed and replaced. In any event, the Turnaround section of the criteria is worth only 40 points maximum in the 500 point scoring rubric.

States that apply for RttT funds will be required to demonstrate that they have state and local teacher union buy-in for which they will either gain or lose just a few points in the 500 point scoring rubric.

Source: EdWeek

For those who have not followed this issue closely, the stated “Purpose” is as follows:

Purpose of Program: The purpose of the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is 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:

(a) Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;

(b) Building data systems that measure student success and inform

teachers and principals in how they can improve their practices;

(c) Increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher

distribution; and

(d) Turning around our lowest achieving schools.

There are three types of “priorities” in the guidelines: Absolute (1), Competitive Preference(1), and Invitational (4)

  • Priority 1: Absolute Priority  – Comprehensive Approach to Education Reform
  • Priority 2: Competitive Preference priority – Emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Priority 3: Invitational Priority – Innovations for Improving Early Learning Outcomes
  • Priority 4: Invitational Priority – Expansion and Adaptation of Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems
  • Priority 5: Invitational Priority – P-20 Coordination, Vertical and Horizontal alignment
  • Priority 6: Invitational Priority – School-Level Conditions for Reform, Innovation and Learning

You can access more information and a very concise Executive Summary at this link.

  1. The RTTT process in Connecticut has involved key stakeholders in public education including CEA. State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan convened a state “External Partners Advisory Committee” that included CEA. This advisory committee prepared a final report recently that made key points: 1) Connecticut’s Guidelines for Teacher Evaluation and Professional Development should continue to play a central role in judging educators. 2) Multiple measures of student achievement should be a factor of consideration for evaluation. 3) Teachers and principals should have roles in determining standards of evaluation and student growth targets.

    You are correct that CEA is opposed to merit pay. Test scores are not the only reflection of an educator’s work; multiple measures are paramount. Your point about some educators whose students have learning goals not measured by CMT or CAPT is a good one. The State Department of Education is investigating growth models. There also is discussion that student performance would be tracked over multi-year periods, not just for one-year cycles.

    Please know that the RTTT process has been on a very fast track. CEA has been an active participant in the discussions in order to represent the voice of teachers. You are not alone in having questions about what the RTTT could mean for teachers. In fact, on Thursday, December 17, Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan will be meeting with association leaders from across Connecticut to answer questions. We will be posting video excerpts and other information on our blog and invite you to continue the conversation with us.

    December 14, 2009
  2. Special Education Professional #

    This initiative supports merit pay or whatever else it’s now being called – pay for performance, differentiated pay, bonus payment, etc. As an association CEA has been opposed to this type of compensation for many years and for many valid reasons. Are we now changing our stance? What provisions are being instituted for classroom teachers and specialists whose primary job is to teach the non-performing students or the students with severe social, emotional, or intellectual disabilities? Should we all strive to become teachers of gifted and talented students?

    December 12, 2009

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