The clock has officially started. Last night, the U.S. Department of Education officially posted the draft Race to the Top (RTT) RFP on the Federal Register. Interested parties can find at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-17909.pdf. The big change from the draft circulating before last week’s unveiling is the proposed criteria are now put in a handy, dandy chart, instead of just being pages and pages of text. Regardless, all interested parties have until August 28 to provide their comments and recommendations to officials at ED. Eduflack would be surprised if the final version of the RFP is not released to states as close to September 1 as possible.
Earlier this week, ED officials held a conference call to speak to the RFP (along with other funding streams such as State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, ed technology grants, and the like). After taking some time to digest it all, Eduflack is left with more questions than he has answers. So rather than suffer with these queries on my own, I’m just going to put them out there so others can struggle along with me (or at least realize that they are not alone). So here’s my top 10.
1) How many states does ED intend to bestow with RTT grants? Clearly, they aren’t intending most states to secure Race funding (else the language would be quite different). But is this intended for half the states? A quarter? Fewer? I’ve heard six to 10 states. Alexander Russo has reported at thisweekineducation.com that the Gates Foundation is helping 15 states with their applications. So how many states will actually become RTT states?
2) Speaking of Gates, if it is true, who are the 15 states that they are assisting? I’ve heard two handfuls of states mentioned as possibles/likelies, including Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Illinois. Will the four states that will play home to Gates’ deep dive states be priorities for funding? Can states like Texas, which receives big Gates dollars, overcome the political and administrative obstacles to qualify if they have the right assistance? Will we ever know who Gates is helping? (Some ED RFPs require that the applicant disclose who actually wrote the proposal, but I don’t see that in the requirements here.)
3) We know that there will be a Phase One and a Phase Two of grants, so what prevents a prospective state from laying the weeds, waiting to see who is approved in Phase One, and then liberally “borrowing” from the previously approved application? We saw some of this in the initial rounds of Reading First back in 2002. Will we see it again this year?
4) And about those approvals, who, exactly, will be reviewing applications? The folks over at Education Week and its Politics K-12 blog have noted that ED is expecting to get top-notch, expert, experiences individuals with SEA backgrounds to review these applications. Obviously, reviewers can’t have a dog in the fight. So who are these reviewers who aren’t currently working with individual states or the organizations that represent them (like NGA or CCSSO) that will be determining how the $4-plus billion is spent?
5) Are California and New York (and Wisconsin) really knocked out of the running because of their prohibitions to link teacher identifiers with student performance data? ED did a great deal of research and vetting of what was happening in the states before releasing this draft. I guarantee that they knew about the CA and NY laws. And we heard EdSec Duncan in California earlier this year expressing some doubts about California being an RTT state. Is the Golden State just too big with too many moving parts to demonstrate measurable change out of the gates? Would we prefer to work with smaller states like Delaware, Georgia, or Ohio that may be easier to navigate in the early going?
6) How sacrosanct are the proposed criteria that guide selection? I can’t help but notice one of the criteria is a letter of endorsement from the state teachers union. Is that a recommended or a non-negotiable? Do the state chapters of the NEA and AFT essentially have veto power over a state’s RTT application? How does a state determine whether they need this item, or whether it is just a nice value-add?
7) With regard to charter schools and requirements around school choice, how will reviewers distinguish between states whose laws essentially prohibit charter schools versus those like Virginia that have terrific charter laws on the books, but just don’t authorize them? Is the measuring stick intent or actual implementation?
8) The draft focusing on alternative certification, but where is emphasis on improving the quality of traditional certification paths? Collecting data on the student achievement of graduates of specific colleges of education? Comparing the impact of traditional certification with alternative certification (and with Teach for America)? How can RTT be used to ensure an ample supply of effective teachers, regardless of the path they take to the classroom?
9) What is the real crosswalk with core standards? It seems like ED is hedging its bets, asking states to provide annual reports based on their state assessments, yet requiring RTT states to sign onto the core standards by mid-2010 (if they are out). Assuming core standards are in place, do we not expect assessments to accompany them? Or do we expect that such assessments will not be completed and in place until after RTT’s four-year run?
10) Other than state self-reporting, how will we actually know that RTT dollars have improved student performance and closed the achievement gap? What specific measures, other than state tests, will be in place? What is ED planning on replacing AYP with for the long haul? How do we ensure that dollars are being invested to change practice for the long term, and that RTT reforms will stay in place and have impact long after the funding is gone?
A lot of questions, I know. Hopefully, others are asking these questions as well as part of the review process. Or are these just the rants and musings of an education agitator?