It can be almost a full-time job to follow the musings and presumptions regarding Race to the Top. During the summer, most believes that the public comment period was pro forma, and we would see a final RttT RFP (bearing remarkable resemblance to the draft) would be released as quickly as possible this month (meaning September).
Seems most didn’t expect the 1,500 or so missives on the draft guidance. And while many of the public comments can be written off as blatant self interest, there are some important issues that need to be addressed, including the timetable for the adoption of core standards, how traditional teacher certification fits with the focus on alternative certification, the firewall issue, and how ED can effectively review existing reform efforts in the states. There also seems to be some wavering as to whether this goes to the originally intended 10-15 states, or if most states have a legitimate chance of winning a portion or the RttT pot.
So now, Eduflack is hearing the final RFP won’t likely be released to the states until November 2009. That aligns with the recent call for RttT reviewers, which has Phase I apps reviewed January through March 2010. RttT RFP released in November. Phase I apps due first week of January for immediate review. Phase I awards expected before the end of the school year. If I were a betting man, that’s the schedule that I would parlay on.
In talking with several states, though, there seems to be some uncertainty as to what happens next. Most states have been working under the assumption that the draft RttT language would be near identical to the final. So many an application will likely have to be revised once the final language comes out. (And I’d take a look at the comments from NEA, EdTrust, DFER, NGA, and CCSSO for the best guidance on what might be changed.) So flexibility is quickly becoming the name of the game.
But the other issue out there is what happens in the second leg of RttT. A state is awarded its RttT grant, and then what? Eduflack has been operating under the assumption that each state would then hold a competitive grant process, letting LEAs build their specific plans aligned to the state goals and promises. The emphasis would obviously be on how the school districts would be able to turn around the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools. But the process would be similar to Reading First, where the state wins the grant, and then the LEAs would have to apply and demonstrate that they bought into the state’s strategy.
But I’ve also heard some states suggest that there will be no competitive process. As part of the state’s application, they will need to get endorsement letters from local LEAs. The assumption is that that action is sufficient, and when the federal money rolls in, the state will simply pass on funds to those LEAs. It gets the money into the field quickly, but it does so without a real plan of operation or any true accountability.
I sure hope that’s not the case. Much of the state’s RttT application deals with state issues, such as standards and data collection. The LEAs need to focus on the other two pillars — teacher quality and school turnaround. Seems that the districts need very specific plans (including the partners and vendors they will use) to deliver on the state’s promises for those two pillars. That doesn’t come from a letter of endorsement. That comes from a competitive process that makes clear that each district needs to fight to show they are worthy of RttT and will be using it effectively.
If the White House and the U.S. Department of Education are working hard at improving RttT (and I have every reason to believe they are), they can hopefully clarify this issue as well. The stakes are too high for this not to be a truly competitive process. Without requiring a clear plan for school districts, we’re just throwing good money after bad. Someone needs to make clear what happens once a state wins. How exactly will the 50 percent or so of RttT funds that the state doesn’t keep get dispersed?