Sunday, May 27, 2012

RTTT - District-Style

Secretary Arne Duncan and the Department of Education recently announced RTTT grants that allow districts, not just states, to apply for funds.  From the Ed Week article:

The department anticipates giving out about 15 to 20 four-year grants, of up to $25 million each. Districts will be able to apply for the funds individually, or as part of consortia with other districts, even those in other states. And charter schools—as well as other organizations that are defined as a "local education agency" by their states—can compete, too.

Yes, you can be a single charter school and apply.  That sure makes it a whole lot easier than it would for a full-fledged district like say, Detroit or LA.   Because, yes, charters get to be LEAs all by themselves.  The caveat here is that they have to serve at least 2500 students and there aren't as many single charters with that population but there's always KIPP, Green Dot, etc. 

And, it goes on to note that even if your state is giving you funding via a state-won RTTT grant, districts can still get money on their own.   Nothing like spreading the wealth.

The draft regulations will be open for comment through June 8 on the department's website. The final applications will be available in mid-July, and districts will apply in October. The money itself has to go out the door by the end of December.

"The application process will occur over the summer, a timeline that runs counter to a very common school calendar," Ellerson said in an email. "This operational reality is further complicated for districts trying to apply in consortia."

In order for a plan to be considered, the district superintendent, the local school board, and the local union president (in districts that have unions) must sign off.

But state chiefs won't have veto power over the applications. Instead, they must be given at least five days to examine and comment—or decide not to comment—on the districts' plans. The same goes for local government officials, including the mayor or town administrator.

This last one is interesting because a district in a town or city could attempt to use the money and go around what the state is mandating. 

What are they looking for?
This time around, "personalized learning environments" are a big watchword. As a central part of their applications, districts will have to explain how they plan to do a better job of individualizing instruction for all their students, so that all students graduate college-and-career-ready (also a watchward in previous rounds). That means a lot of emphasis on student data, both to track individual student progress and to make sure schools are addressing their strengths and weaknesses. 

This could be accomplished in the classroom, possibly by creating "personalized learning plans," which outline students' educational and career goals and track their progress toward them. Districts could choose to offer extra supports, such as expanded use of technology. And they could decide to go with a "competency-based" approach, meaning students would advance for mastering particular skills, not the amount of time they spend working on a given subject. 

As well:

Districts will also have to address the "four assurances" that were a cornerstone of the state rounds of Race to the Top, including teacher quality, turning around low-performing schools, boosting data quality, and improving standards and assessments. 

Hmm.  SPS has a new teacher contract, has been working on turning around low-performing schools, implemented MAP and has updated its standards and assessments.  Could it be possible SPS could be eligible for this money?

But then this "huh" factor:

Districts don't have to come up with plans that serve all their students, in every school. They could be more specific, such as just coming up with a plan for low-performing schools, schools that feed into one another, or just for particular grade spans, such as all 5th and 6th graders.

 It is one thing if you have a particular federal grant aimed at low-income students or low-performing schools.  But it's another thing where the money could be aimed at ALL students and yet you can choose to serve only one group.  I feel like the money should be to support all the students in your district.  I wouldn't have a problem with, say, directed programs for just K-3 or 9-12, if the program served all students in those grades.

How to qualify?

The department has put in place what it calls a "high bar" for districts to able to compete for the funds, officials said. Just to be eligible, by the 2014-15 school year, district-level applicants will have to put in place data systems that can track students progress from pre-school through K-12 and post-secondary education, as well as a mechanism to link student performance to their teachers.

Are there really that many districts that track students through post-secondary?  I would think that would be very difficult and very expensive.

But, Big News:

What's more, also by the 2014-15 school year, districts will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account--not just for teacher and principal performance, but for district superintendents and school boards. That's a big departure from the state-level Race to the Top competitions, which just looked at educators who actually work in schools, not district-level leaders.

Speaking of the Families and Education Levy:

Districts can get extra points if they partner with public or private organizations—such as public health, after-school, and business groups— to offer extra supports to meet students' social and emotional needs. Districts and their partners must spell out how they plan to track these services and target them to those most in need, including students with disabilities, English-language learners, and those in poverty. 

 This new competition is rather interesting but I doubt SPS could/would do it.  Banda is too new and we have too many logistics problems to deal with in the district as it is and this would involve major effort on the part of the district.


Watching said...

Who would evaluate the school board? The Alliance for Ed?

There is a reform movement aimed at restructuring our educational system. This includes school board oversight. I've often wondered if the recent report by the US Chamber of Commerce (which was factually incorrect and author unknown) was an attempt to further this agenda.

Jan said...

The School Board is answerable to voters -- period. If WE come up with some "accrediting" or "oversight" entity that we wish they would have evaluate them -- then it needs to get out to candidates, and they need to make it part of their "platform" when they run.

I am beginning to think that it is time for Districts (and states) like ours to connect with like-minded people in Texas, etc., who have woken up to the national-based, corporate-style attempts to take over schools (through the Ed Department, and by others) and have begun to push back.

We also need to understand where McKenna and Inslee stand on this. It will be a strange day indeed if a "small government" Republican decides that some governmental agency should take over school boards, when it is clearly the prerogative of local voters to elect them.

Watching said...


I'm very worried individuals evaluating the board would be those pushing Bill Gates style of reform. Anyone that disagrees with this type of reform would be labeled as failures.

Keep an eye on this issue. I'm sure we will be hearing more. Clearly, the RTT initiative is heading in this direction.

Sahila said...

Race To The Top - Coming to a Community College Near You