RttT Part Two: This Time, We’re Serious

Now that the dust is settling on the recent Race to the Top Phase One announcement (go Tennessee and Delaware!), the remaining states in the union are starting to get serious about their Phase Two apps.  In the last day or so, we’ve now seen that Kansas has decided to opt out  of the Phase Two process, while Phase One finalist Colorado is making additional legislative changes  to look more appealing to judges. 

When the two winners were announced last month, Eduflack (and others) wondered how much help the two winning applications could provide to those seeking Phase Two dollars.  With unique demographics, political situations, and hungers for school reform, there are few states that could just do a “search and replace” with apps from either the First State or the Volunteer State and expect to win the day.

While a great deal has been written about the Phase One apps, particularly, the two winners, the folks over at The New Teacher Project (a org that is in both of the winning apps, I believe) has provided a solid analysis of what the applications can really tell us.  The full analysis can be found here .

Among the most interesting of TNTP’s findings are its seven lessons learned:
* Reform must reach statewide and beyond the four-year grant period (so we must have a continuity plan after the federal dollars dry up)
* Implementation must be certain (no contingencies allowed; it is all or nothing)
* Plans must be clear (this was particularly clear in the Minnesota critique)
* Local advantages are key (the cookie-cutter reform effect doesn’t work)
* Points can be won and lost in unexpected places (with insufficient progress on data systems and lack of a STEM plan singled out)
* On Teachers and Leaders, bold policies are rewarded (but it doesn’t carry the day, as TNTP notes with both Louisiana’s and Rhode Island’s particularly strong and bold teacher plans)
* Borrow concepts, do not cut and paste (with Eduflack still waiting to see if there were perceived Phase One content similarities between applications prepared by the same consulting companies) 

The TNTP analysis also offered a few cautions for judges and the U.S. Department of Education when it comes to Phase Two reviews.  Based on its analysis of the Phase One finalists, TNTP voices real concern over four issues: 1) lack of differentiation of scoring; 2) inflated scores; 3) deviation from scoring guidance; and 4) excessive influence of outliers.

When EdSec Arne Duncan announced the Phase One winners, he made clear that RttT was going to be an exclusive club for a select number of states.  That’s why states like Kansas have already opted out of the second running, and while other states are likely considering the same.  And it has to have many states, particularly those who didn’t make the finalist cut first time around, wondering if it is worth the time and effort to comprehensively overhaul their plans for this go-around.

Whether one was a finalist in Round One or not, each and every state preparing a Phase Two app needs to ask itself a few key questions.  Are we committed to real, substantive, and long-term change and improvement?  Are we prepared to pay for such improvement, both now and in the out years?  Do we have the relationships, partnerships, and promises to truly change the tires on a racecar going 195 miles an hour?  Do we have the legislative support for what will likely require more changes?  Do we have the intestinal fortitude to follow through on our plans?  Are we willing to be truly bold?  Are we willing to stand behind what is right, even if it may be unpopular?  Are we able to continue these plans, even if we have a change in governor, state legislature leadership, or with the state board?  Are we able to demonstrate our plan has been effective, and to measure that effectiveness based on student test scores?  Are we truly ready to lead, without the cover of other states doing the exact same things?

If a state can answer yes to all of the above, without hesitating, it is likely on the right track.  If not …
 

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