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Posts tagged ‘Race to the Top’

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge

$50 million in federal funding is available to improve early childhood education.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine (right) told other members of Connecticut’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet that educators recognize the critical importance of quality pre-K. At left is State Senator Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the legislature's Education Committee.

“I know we can do this.” That’s the message from Governor Dannel P. Malloy to members of Connecticut’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet working on a $50 million grant from the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve early childhood education. The grant is part of the Early Learning Challenge, a piece of the Race to the Top education-reform competition launched in 2009.

In addressing the panel at the Legislative Office Building today, the governor said it’s important to seek federal assistance to help close the state’s achievement gap and to make sure no child is denied an opportunity to age appropriate education because of their parents’ financial situation. And he said, “We know what must be done.”

“Urban teachers, rural teachers, suburban teachers—they all know what it’s going to take to improve the quality of the product as it comes to our formalized kindergarten through grade 12 program,” said Malloy. “Let’s go after this grant, and design programs to make sure we get it right in Connecticut, and we get it right sooner than later.”

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine listened to Governor Malloy address the Early Childhood Education Cabinet.

The Governor said, “Anytime we deny some group of children the ability to meet their maximum—to be as good a student, as good a citizen, as good a worker as they possibly can be, in this very competitive economic environment—we are failing that child.”

CEA Executive director Mary Loftus Levine, a member of the cabinet, says educators recognize the critical importance of quality pre-K to the development of Connecticut’s youngest children.

“We need to focus on literacy skills, high-quality instruction and programs, and having highly qualified and certified teachers for our youngest children. Time is not a renewable resource for these children, so the time to act is now,” said Levine.

To win the grants, states are required to submit applications showing evidence of their commitment to a series of reforms, including the coordination and improvement of multiple early childhood programs designed for children from birth through age five.

Rep. Andy Fleischman, co-chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, said legislation (SB 1103) enacted last spring to create a coordinated system of early childhood care laid the foundation that the group is aiming to build upon.

The cabinet’s next meeting is Sept. 22. Applications are due October 19, and winners will be announced before December 31.

For more information visit

New School Year Brings Both Hope and Uncertainty

I’ve laid low this summer, mostly watching the long drawn out run up to final passage of the so-called EduJobs bill in the Senate.  Secretary Duncan has kept his promise of moving swiftly to get the money out and posted a simple application earlier this week, but governors still sit in the driver’s seat.

Yesterday Governor M. Jodi Rell formally ap­plied for the $110.4 million coming to Connecticut. The money will be dedicated primarily to maintaining current staffing levels and avoiding layoffs. NEA estimates this could save 1,500 jobs in Connecticut. The State Department of Education expects the funds to be disbursed to Connecticut in early September.

State officials decided to use the same formula used to distribute Educational Cost Sharing dollars to disperse the Education Jobs money.   Click here to find out how much your town will receive.

Connecticut, as you know, did not make the final cut for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding affirming misgivings that Commissioner McQuillan and many others have had all along regarding the efficacy of yet another federal education program that creates winners and losers. Secretary Duncan believes that RTTT has already been a great success since it has caused so many states to do wonderful things in pursuit of innovative reform. I disagree. Most states made these changes because they were the price of entry. Or, in some cases, states saw this as an opportunity to run ramshod over teachers and their unions. Fortunately, changes made in Connecticut were achieved through consensus.

On July 30 Commissioner McQuillan sent a letter to Senator Dodd expressing his concern with the shifts from formula driven distribution of federal education dollars to competitive grants in the Obama “Blueprint for Education”.  Similar, but broader, concerns were raised recently by a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National Council for Educating Black Children, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

In a press conference organized by the Lawyers Committee just prior to the annual convention of the Urban League the coalition released a 17 page document, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn Through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” Apparently, according to Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, the administration had been meeting with civil rights groups for several weeks prior to the release to attempt to deal with their concerns. To their credit, these groups decided to release the document anyway. Neither President Obama, nor his education secretary showed any signs of retreat from their positions on charter schools, or competition as a vehicle to leverage reform in separate appearances before the Urban League delegates.

So why is this important? For me the statement brings the civil rights community closer to the positions espoused by the “Broader, Bolder, Approach” coalition. While some have criticized these civil rights groups for having the temerity to criticize our first black president, they have missed the point: this is a debate that is vital to the future of public education in the United States and, with increasing dissent over many elements of the Obama Blueprint, it looks like it may happen after all. Are you ready to participate?

Some recommended reading (with an admitted bias):

A New Vision for Education (Nation June 14, 2010)

Why I Changed My Mind by Diane Ravitch (Nation June 14, 2010)

Restoring Our Schools by Linda Darling Hammond (Nation June 14, 2010)

The Black White achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley (ETS White Paper July 2010)

There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test by E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio (The American Prospect June 13, 2010)

False Impression: How a Widely Cited Study Vastly Overstates the Benefits of Charter Schools by Marco Basile (Economic Policy Institute August 9, 2010)

The Movement Towards National Standards

Connecticut’s State Board of Education voted to adopt the Common Core State Standards earlier this month and many other states are doing the same.  The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) coordinated the development of the standards and released the final version June 2.

As of last week, twenty-seven states had adopted the standards and more are expected to do so as Race to the Top requires state action by August 2.  Standards are not meant to lead to a national curriculum but will aid states and districts in developing their own curricula and trainings.  The standards outline the skills and knowledge that every student should share in math and English.

According to the CT Mirror,

A review by Connecticut educators concluded that 80 percent of the common English standards and more than 90 percent of common math standards match existing Connecticut standards.

Where standards do not match, the differences are often subtle, sometimes a matter of when certain skills are taught. In math, for example, the new common standards call for students to learn to multiply and divide fractions in fifth grade, a skill that is introduced in sixth grade under existing Connecticut standards.

The New York Times covered the movement to adopt national standards recently and several education leaders were asked to weigh in with their opinions.  Their views of the standards are widely divergent and interesting to read.  Check them out and join the discussion on the New York Times site here.

Governor Rell Signs Sweeping Education Reform Legislation

Governor M. Jodi Rell poses with education leaders following a signing ceremony May 26 at Hockanum School in East Hartford where she signed into law a new comprehensive education reform policy bill. With the governor are (l. to r.) Connecticut Federation of School Administrators President Roch Girard, CEA President Phil Apruzzese, CEA Executive Director John Yrchik, State Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, Education Committee Co-Chairs Senator Thomas Gaffey and State Representative Andrew Fleischmann.

CEA leaders were among invited officials at a signing ceremony today at Hockanum School in East Hartford.  Governor M. Jodi Rell signed into law a comprehensive education reform policy bill passed in the final days of the 2010 legislative session.

The legislation, Senate Bill 438, An Act Concerning Education Reform in Connecticut, covers an array of issues designed to provide new chances to boost student achievement. The new law increases the minimum credits required for high school graduation from 20 to 25 and gives greater emphasis to math, science, and world languages, beginning with the Class of 2018. It also requires every student to complete a “capstone project” – an independent demonstration project.

The legislation was crafted by a working group that included CEA representatives and other stakeholders in the education community, including the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and the state commissioner of education.

“As a genuine partner, CEA tapped the knowledge and experience of teachers during this legislative process,” said CEA President Phil Apruzzese, who attended the signing ceremony. “We are pleased that teachers had a voice at the table and that CEA could make a difference in shaping the final omnibus school reform package.”

The governor called the legislation a product of “bipartisan” effort. “By having all of the interested parties – educators, teachers unions, parents, students, legislators, and others – together at the table, we ended up with a far stronger result than any individual effort could produce. This is bold, visionary reform – and we are making it happen together,” Governor Rell said.

The new law also enhances Connecticut’s chances to secure up to $175 million in federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant funding that rewards states for taking bold steps in education reform. Connecticut will file its application for the next round of RTTT grants on June 1.

Key Reform Efforts Critical to State’s Revised RTTT Application

Connecticut’s twice-delayed in-school suspension law and the State Department of Education’s (SDE) proposed secondary school reform plan are both important links to the state’s success in its second Race to the Top (RTTT) federal grant application due June 1.

Addressing members of  the General Assembly’s Education Committee during an information forum on the state’s RTTT grant application process held April 16, State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said Connecticut needs RTTT funds to help build “a bold support system of emotional and academic support” for students.

“Secondary reform plan is an essential building block to the state’s reform strategy and the in-school suspension law is key to keeping kids in school so they can continue to learn and graduate,” said McQuillan.

With the regular legislative session scheduled to adjourn on May 5, lawmakers have about two weeks left to cobble together and pass an omnibus bill that would address issues for Connecticut’s revised RTTT application.  “RTTT is a one-time opportunity – the legislature must act now,” said the commissioner.

McQuillan and representatives from several education stakeholder groups – including CEA Executive Director John Yrchik – have met regularly with State Senator Thomas Gaffey and State Representative Andrew Fleishmann, co-chairs of the Education Committee, in a series of RTTT “education summits.”

The summits began shortly after Connecticut learned in March that it was not a finalist in the first RTTT application round. Discussions have focused on what stakeholders think is best for the state to incorporate into the revised application. The informational forum was an opportunity to update the Education Committee and help bolster legislative support for issues related to the RTTT application.

Stakeholder buy-in essential

CEA Executive Director John Yrchik told the committee that having all stakeholders sitting at the table to discuss education issues is not only important to the future of children and public education, but it is also “a fundamental factor” in the success of Connecticut’s second RTTT application. He said collaboration on the RTTT application is given more importance than any other section.

“There are lots of reform issues being discussed for Connecticut, and even if they are all passed by the General Assembly, we could still lose points without stakeholder buy-in,” Yrchik said. He added that Connecticut lost 150 points on the first application because it didn’t have sufficient stakeholder buy-in.

“Without everyone in agreement on this application, success is fairly minimal. It takes everyone working together to bring about reform,” he said.

Yrchik also cautioned legislators to be careful in approving any statute changes for the competitive RTTT application. “The federal government did not set forth criteria for states to aspire to with this application process. Instead they set up a competition – and unfortunately this means many states with good and credible plans will not get their applications funded. Whether or not our application is accepted, we will have to live with any changes that are made, it’s important any changes represent good policy.”

High school reform plan ‘vital’ to RTTT grant

MQuillan said the state’s comprehensive high school reform plan – launched two and a half years ago – is “vital” to the RTTT application. The plan – which has been approved by both the Education and Appropriations committees – would establish more rigorous high school graduation requirements. Among other goals, it would increase high school course and credit requirements, raise student accountability and assessment standards, and include a model curricula for districts.

The commissioner said the plan dovetails with the state’s need to more closely link K-12 and higher education requirements because of the proposed national common core of standards for college and career readiness that the State Board of Education is expected to adopt.

He told the committee the reform plan builds on a long-range vision for Connecticut’s education future. “If the state doesn’t move forward with secondary school reform funding and tries to fund it only with RTTT money, it would put the state at a disadvantage with our revised application. The federal government would see that as not having a strong commitment to education reform,” he said.

He added that the “frightening reality” is that without state funds, the plan would “stop dead in its tracks” and the state would lose ground. “The plan is not a cost-free program for the state. RTTT funding would only get the plan started and under way, not sustain it.”

In-school suspension law critical to reform goals

McQuillan – along with several superintendents and principals from around the state – said the state’s new in-school suspension law – scheduled to go into effect July 1 – is also critical to the state’s education reform goals and the RTTT application.

The commissioner said students who are frequently suspended from high school “are prime candidates” to drop out of school and enter the workforce without the skills they need to succeed. He said strong in-school suspension programs can provide students and their families with the academic and emotional help they need to successfully move through middle and high school.

The law has been delayed twice since it was passed in 2007, but the Education Committee recently voted not to support a third postponement. A number of districts have not waited for the law to become effective, implementing in-school suspension policies as part of efforts to reduce overall student suspensions.

“When someone knows a teacher cares, there will be fewer discipline problems,” Stafford Springs Superintendent Therese Fishman told the committee. She said the district’s high school in-school suspension program includes a Saturday session and assigns paraprofessionals and substitute teachers to work with suspended students. “It should be a learning experience. We want to make sure students keep learning.”

Fishman added that she wants to hire a full-time teacher for the in-school suspension room and use the teacher as a long-term substitute when there are no student suspensions. “In-school suspensions for low-risk students cost more money, but our goal is to keep kids in school.”

East Hartford High School Assistant Principal Michelle Marion said the school has a designated in-school suspension program where students are assigned to a room and are expected to focus on academic assignments provided by their teachers.

The program is partly funded by a grant, but she said staff dealing with student behavioral programs need more professional development training programs. However, she said her district can’t afford the $60,000 cost.

While the committee voted against postponing the in-school suspension law, a number of legislators on the committee said the reality is that not all districts can develop in-school suspension programs in difficult economic times because of budget cuts.

However, Joseph Cirasulo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, told the committee that superintendents don’t want another delay for the law. “Let’s put it into the mix and get it done,” he said, adding that in-school suspension programs should have a higher funding priority than some other programs.

The Blueprint: A Rose by Any Other Name

The Obama administration officially conveyed it’s blueprint for reauthorization to Congress last week, even while seeking ideas from teachers. So what else is new, you might ask? Apparently, while seeking input, the plan was also being written, as I have suggested in the past, jaded cynic that I have become.

Secretary Duncan told the House Education Committee last week that these ideas did not come from Washington “experts,” but rather from teachers and principals and other stakeholders. I think it would be more accurate to say that “these ideas represent our interpretation of what we heard from teachers, principals, and other stakeholders.” That is quite different.

The Blueprint is a 41 page concept paper laying out the administration’s vision for replacing NCLB. I have many problems with what I read, and I can’t be too far off base since both the NEA and the AFT have expressed deep concern and disappointment with many elements of the plan. You should download the plan and read it for yourself and share your reaction with us.

The media and inside the beltway education policy wonks have already declared that there is initially broad-based bipartisan positive reaction, and that the primary opposition is coming from the teachers unions. This is generally how the script unfolds in the contemporary education reform debate. What is different in this instance is that two important voices in the debate have expressed deep concern with the proposal: Diane Ravitch (NYU historian) who I wrote about in a recent post, and Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford University) whose recently published book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future has been deemed a significant roadmap for the future.

The combination of the Obama budget proposal and the Blueprint envision a radically different tilt away from formulaic distribution of federal education dollars to one which forces more and more competition for desperately needed money in a far from level playing field.

These are first impressions, but here are a few substantial concerns. If you have read any recent posts of mine you know I am not a great fan of Race to the Top. The Blueprint treats RTTT as revealed truth and has become the basis for the administration’s proposal. It mistakenly presumes that the fundamental philosophy imbedded in NCLB – the notion that rewards and punishment are the only pathway to change – is really not a bad thing, but rather misapplied. That if we correct the misapplication of identifying too many schools as failing and apply a more focused flogging on the teachers in a smaller percentage of “persistently  underperforming schools” – let’s say 5% – that we will have made things better. Well, no, that is not what has been said. Flogging never changed any workforce for the better. As one blogger characterized it (Diane Ravitch cited this recently), they can’t fire poverty, so they decided to fire teachers.

The problem with the Obama administration on education, is that they are proving again how wise our mothers were when they often told us, “It’s not what you say that is important, it’s what you do.”

The most fundamental flaw in our education system is the unevenness of it all. Equity, a level playing field, is the only true foundation that will provide a springboard for transforming our system. According to Darling-Hammond, the nations to which we look as top performers, such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea, have taken a totally different approach to transforming their schools.  The focus on teachers has been real rather than rhetorical, as has been the focus on curriculum and pedagogy.

Finland’s approach should be instructive.

Finnish education policies are the result of four decades of systematic, mostly intentional development that has created a culture of diversity, trust, and respect within Finnish society, in general, and within its education system in particular … Education sector development has been grounded on equal opportunities for all, equitable distribution of resources rather than competition, intensive early interventions for prevention, and building gradual trust among education practitioners, especially teachers. (Sahlberg, Finnish analyst, as quoted by Darling-Hammond, The Flat World and Education, p.168)

Consider the last four tumultuous decades of reform in the United States and what the descriptors might be if we had to write a paragraph to capture it. We have, as our critics frequently lament, gone in the opposite direction. But the cause of the decline cannot be laid upon the backs of teachers for, unlike the nations mentioned above, teachers in our country have never been professionally empowered. I am in the midst of reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s book and have found it to be incredibly useful. She was my candidate for education secretary and her book only underscores our loss.

Her book carefully lays out the current reality in public education. She examines three states as exemplars of approaches to reform: Connecticut, North Carolina, and California. Connecticut broke new ground in the 80’s with the Education Enhancement Act, by elevating the quality of its teaching force, developing strong standards and assessments. We know the story. She also examines three high fliers on the world stage: Finland, South Korea, and Singapore. What Connecticut shared with these three nations, at least in the 80’s and into the 90’s, was the enlightened notion that the best path to transformational change, genuine systemic change, is the slow and steady approach.

There is much more to say on the so-called Blueprint, and as the poet said, “There will be time.” In the meantime, after you read Diane Ravitch’s book, go out and get a copy of Linda Darling-Hammond’s book. It is well worth the effort.

Education Reform in the News: Are Teachers Ignored?

Race to the Top finalists were announced last week and, probably not coincidentally, teachers and education have been in the news recently.  Newsweek and the New York Times Magazine, mainstream publications with a wide reach, have had features on teachers and teaching: Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers and Building a Better Teacher.

Meanwhile the education community is talking about Diane Ravitch’s new book and new take on education reform (read BlogCEA contributor Bob Murphy’s review), and Linda Darling-Hammond has a new book out too.

Scholastic issued a report with the results of a survey of 40,000 U.S. public school teachers.  “The results show many teachers feel ignored in the debate over how to improve America’s schools.”

Have you had the time to read any of these articles and discuss them with your colleagues?  Do you agree that teachers are ignored when it comes to discussions about school reform?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Stakeholders Come Together to Discuss Next Steps for RTTT

It’s expected to be over a month before Connecticut policymakers can separate fact from fiction regarding why the state was not named a finalist in the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition for large sums of federal funds.

“There’s much speculation, but we really won’t know precisely why Connecticut was not chosen in this first round of funding until the U.S. Department of Education sends written feedback to the state education commissioner in mid-April.  For now, I want to commend everyone involved in the application procedure, especially our many local associations who signed on to the application,” says CEA President Phil Apruzzese.

Shortly after the announcement came from Washington today that Connecticut was not a finalist, the co-chairs of the legislature’s education committee called stakeholders together at a news conference to announce that “education summits” would commence to ensure that Connecticut’s spring application for the second round of RTTT funding would be even better than the first.

State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said, “We will win the next round.  We have to go even farther.”

CEA Executive Director John Yrchik participated in the March 4 news conference, saying the round one application was “very comprehensive.”  Only 15 out of 40 states were declared finalists for the first round of funding.

Yrchik explains, “The RTTT application gave guidelines, but there was tremendous uncertainty about exactly what would drive federal decision making.  As Connecticut prepares its second application, there is much to talk about because we must use the best research-based strategies.  The beauty of the process is that in the weeks ahead, all the stakeholders can come together to develop what is best for our state.”

At the news conference, McQuillan responded to allegations that there were 120 questions left blank on Connecticut’s RTTT application.  “This is inaccurate.  It’s a misperception about our application given the directions we were given from the U.S. Department of Education,” said McQuillan.

Senator Thomas Gaffey and Representative Andrew Fleishmann, co-chairs of the Education Committee, say the following are just some of the areas that they expect stakeholders to focus on during the education summits and other meetings in the weeks and months ahead: comprehensive high school reform; the TEAM (Teacher Education and Mentoring) program; data systems linking teachers and student achievement; and alternative routes to certification for teacher leaders.

Watch the complete news conference, divided into two parts, below.

President Wants ESEA Reauthorized This Year

I’ve been “offline” for over a month enjoying a bit of the freedom that comes with retirement.

On the national education policy front January was a relatively quiet month as over 40 states scrambled to meet the onerous demands of finishing the application for the Race to the Top competition. Connecticut was one of those forty states reaching for the brass ring for much needed monies. Connecticut is in a tier of states eligible to receive up to $175 million if the judges deem their application worthy of an award.

In the meantime, President Obama in his State of the Union message gave strong support to public education followed up with a budget proposal that asks Congress to approve a dramatic increase in ESEA funding – note that it has become fashionable once again to refer to the law by its actual name the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. This has been promoted by Secretary Duncan, who frequently indicates that NCLB has become a “toxic brand” for the education law. Both President Obama and Arne Duncan have been talking up the possibility of reauthorizing the law by year’s end. So it seems reasonable to assume that soon the games will begin in earnest. If chatter on the blogosphere is any indicator they have already begun, and now is the time for educators to turn their eyes toward Washington. Read more

State Board May Consider Charter School Funding at February Meeting

The full State Board of Education (SBE) will get a report on Wednesday, February 3, from its Legislation and Bylaws committee regarding a proposal for a “money follows the child” funding model for charter schools that would siphon money from traditional public schools.

It is one of two competing proposals considered in recent months by the SBE to revise how Connecticut’s charter schools are funded. The first proposal— the “money follows the child” funding — would require districts to pay a set “tuition rate” for each child who enrolls in a charter school from their district. The second proposal is to increase the direct, per-pupil state grant for charter schools from $9,300 per pupil to $10,306 per pupil.

SBE’s Legislation and Bylaws Committee held a special workshop in Hartford on January 27 to discuss the  “money follows the child” funding proposal for charter schools. The full SBE voted three weeks ago to approve a proposed increase in the state’s per-pupil grant funding for charter schools, but postponed any decision on the “money follows the child” funding  model until its Legislation and Bylaws Committee could review and discuss its impact.

The “money follows the child” funding proposal – pushed by a private group that operates several Connecticut charter schools — has ominous consequences for local school budgets. Under this proposal, funding for a student to attend a charter school would be deducted from the sending school district’s state Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant payment.

While the committee on January 27 discussed the ‘money follows the child” funding proposal, at the end of the meeting members decided not to vote on it. Instead, committee members reached a consensus to recommend to the full SBE that the current system the state uses to finance its public schools needs a drastic overhaul to provide equity to all students. When the committee makes its report on February 3, potentially, the “money follows the child” funding  proposal could come up for further discussion by the full board.

During their discussions, committee members expressed concerns about the significant amount of money the state would have to commit to charter schools to finance the “money follows the child” funding proposal with the state facing a nearly half billion dollar budget deficit. The gaping hole created in local school budgets by diverting state funds to charter schools also troubled committee members. Half of Stamford’s ECS funds, for example, would be wiped out under such a proposal.

The committee received an analysis of what state charter schools receive in funding under current state law from State Department of Education (SDE) Legal and Government Affairs attorney Jennifer Widness and SDE Chief Financial Officer Brian Mahoney. Their analysis showed that as a group, many charter schools already receive more money per pupil than local schools when comparing state and local funding. Charter schools also can compete with local districts for federal funds and can seek contributions from private organizations and foundations.