Around the Edu-Horn, May 28, 2010

RT @saramead rebuilding Haiti’s education system: Interesting on-the-ground post from early ed watch.

Justice O’Connor fails US schools on civics —

@edreform‘s #RttT “Reality Check” —

RT @njleftbehind NJEA and Schundler Embrace Ed Reform?:

Romer: ARRA supported 400k teachers’ jobs across nation —

Throwing Some Needed Cold Water on i3

For nearly a year now, school districts across the nation have been eagerly anticipating a piece of the Investing in Innovation grant program.  The promise of $650 million to continue innovative approaches to school improvement is too big a lure for many to pass up.  While districts and non-profits worried about how they could get their applications done, where they would find the staff time, and what to promote, they were not going to forgo the opportunity.

Final proposals were due this month, and by US Department of Education count, nearly 1,700 applications were submitted.  These applications range from the large (those seeking $50 million) to the small (those seeking $5 million or less for their plans).  They include proposals from urban, rural, and suburban school districts, consortias of school districts, colleges and universities, not-for-profits, and blends of all of the above.

Every one of them optimistic of their chances to get a piece of the $650 million i3 pie.  And that optimism was only heightened when the final i3 RFP and regs were released earlier this year, and ED talked about plans to award up to 300 grants (up to 100 in each of the three categories) before the end of the coming fiscal year.

That expectation (up to) 300 grants had Eduflack scratching his head a little at the time.  Expecting that most applicants would seek the maximum dollar amount for their category, By my meager math, I could only see 40 or so winners.  Think about it.  Development grants allow a max of $5 million, validation grants a max of $30 million per, and scale up grants a max of $50 million per.  If you awarded just eight grants in each of those three categories, you had already exceeded the $650 million available.  Account for a few winners asking for less than the max, or a few more development awards and a few less scale ups, and you might push 40 up to 50.  But 300 grants was never a possibility, at least not under Phase One of i3 (assuming, as most do, that EdSec Duncan will get Congress to offer up new funds for new rounds of i3).  You’d need billions ot hit that mark, unless applicants were just asking for a fraction of the available money.

This reality was confirmed earlier this week by none other than the good EdSec himself.  According to the usually reliable Eduwonk, Duncan revealed, at a Wednesday meeting that he expects 70 total i3 awards to come this fall.  So nearly 1,700 enter the i3 steel cage, with 70 or so emerging as victors.

Surprisingly, this declaration hasn’t been widely reported.  But it throws a real splash of cold water on the whole i3 process.  Even expecting 300 winners, the odds for most applicants was pretty low.  Winnow that down to 70, and many districts would have been better off buying scratch tickets or hosting a car wash to fund some of their “innovative” plans.

It appears that ED is building the i3 path based on the same blueprint it used for Phase One Race to the Top.  The goal is to award funds to those with the highest chance of success.  One IDs just a fraction of the 1,700 applicants, gives them the seed money, and watches it blossom.  Let those 70 or so winners show how i3 can be sucessfully used, how to measure ROI, and how to actually boost student achievement.  Reward some of those rural districts who feel left out of the Race.  Encourage partnerships.  And, most importantly, require all those enjoying i3 to both demonstrate real research findings to date and provide even stronger research moving forward. 

We’ll show you the money if you can show us the data, if you will.

“Much Superior” Virginia?

For weeks now, we have been hearing about states that have decided they will not pursue Race to the Top, Part II.  Over at Politics K-12 , Michele McNeil has a dozen or so states that either have decided not to apply or are dangerously close to not applying before next Tuesday’s drop-dead date for the final taste of the $4 billion pot.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  More than 40 states put in hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to prepare their Phase I apps.  Two states, Delaware and Tennessee, won in the early round.  Those remaining states were left with detailed judges’ scores to help guide a redo due June 1.  But some states simply don’t have the stomach for it, offering a host of reasons not to pursue.

Perhaps one of the most interesting reasons for declining was offered yesterday by Eduflack’s home state of Virginia.  According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is not entering the Race because of the Common Core Standards.  The chief executive of the Old Dominion claims that Virginia’s current academic standards are “much superior” and he doesn’t see the need of tinkering with 15 years of work to establish the current Standards of Learning.

I understand a state like Massachusetts, which is known for having some of the top performance standards in the nation to be wary of common core, but Virginia, really?  When discussions turn to state standards and the leaders and laggards, one really hears about Virginia’s SOLs being at the top of the class.  

Earlier this month, Eduflack wrote about the dangers of states that have reduced their standards to show performance gains on AYP.  Unfortunately, we see far too many states that tout impressive records of student acheivement on their state exams and measured against their state standards, only to see that performance plummet when compared to a common yardstick like NAEP.

So let’s take another look at the data offered by Gary Phillips, a vice president at American Institutes for Research and the former acting commissioner at NCES.  How does Virginia stack up?  According to the SOLs, 82 percent of fourth graders in Virginia were proficient in math.  But when we look at the NAEP scores, that number drops to the low 40s.  It is even worse for eighth grade math, where the SOLs put proficiency at 79, but NAEP puts it under 40.

Why is this important?  The NAEP is a common measure.  It lets Virginia see where it stacks up compared to other states.  And the numbers there are startling.  In fourth grade, we are in the middle of the pack, far behind states like Massachusetts, South Carolina, Missouri, Washington, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  By eighth grade, Virginia is near the bottom of the pack in such performance, only posting better numbers that seven states.

Is that really “much superior?”  Are we really declaring “mission accomplished” when we are mediocre at fourth grade and drop to the bottom quartile by eighth grade?  The bar we’ve set on academic standards is … at least we are better than Oklahoma?

Around the Edu-Horn, May 26, 2010

New Jersey seeks support for second-round Race to the Top bid (from ASCD)

No ed reform in OK?

RT @conncan A look at DC’s bid for round 2 of #racetothetop:

RT @mazehr 1 in 10 English-learners in N.Y.C. missed at least 2 years of formal schooling in home country.

MD approved common core … before official release next week —

New NEA commercial on the need for $23B in edujobs funding —

Around the Edu-Horn, May 25, 2010

Report: 3/4 of students will not participate in summer learning programs —

RT @isteconnects New Post: Outfitting 21st Century Classrooms w/ 21st Century Teachers

European biz schools coming to the US —

RT @AndresHenriquez Many not ready for college, costing Texas $200M a year:

RT @EdEquality RT @BrandonFrame: George Clinton & Cornel West collaborate in honor of charter school

Promises, Promises

The first week of June is shaping up to be a busy one for federal education policy.  On June 1, Phase Two Race to the Top applications are due to the U.S. Department of Education.  Then on June 2, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association are slated to to release their K-12 common core standards to all who are watching.

What is the significance of these two dates?  Every state seeking a RttT grant is expected to pledge to adopt the common core standards as a term of eligibility for RttT.  And while working drafts of the K-12 standards have been circulating around town for months, the actual document each state pledges to follow won’t be released until the day after such pledges are due.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli has an interesting discussion on the common core/RttT implications for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts here.  And while his discussion is Massachusetts-centric, the argument is an interesting one for every state seeking funding from the $4 billion pot.

For those who fail to recall, last summer, when the draft RttT guidelines first came out, NGA and CCSSO raised concerns about the requirements tying common core to RttT.  The chief concern was timeline, particularly for Phase One applicants who had to make such a pledge back in January almost entirely in the dark.

But it begs larger questions.  Does promising to adopt common core standards demand specific follow through?  Will ED consider pulling back a RttT award if a state doesn’t aggressively implement the standards in the coming year?  And what, exactly, does implementing the standards look like before we have actual assessments to measure expected student performance?

Back in 2005, NGA pulled off a monumental task, getting all 50 states to agree to adopt a common high school graduation rate.  It was a major step forward for both accountability and accurate data, using a formula that clearly and unequivocally determined how many kids actually earned a high school diploma.  The formula was simple.  Look at the number of incoming ninth graders four years ago, look at how many are graduating today, and there you have it.  No multiple definitions of graduates, no partial credits, no semi-applause for those on the six-year grad plan.

it was a bold and necessary move.  And NGA got every governor to agree to it.  But governors and state legislatures change.  It takes time to adopt such new policies.  And then some states realize that a new grad rate means waking up one morning and finding your percentage of high school graduates dropped 15 percent overnight.  As a result, only about a third of states have actually enacted the new (or not so new, five years later) formula.  But all are still on record as supporting it.

Is that where we are headed on common core standards?  Every state, save for Texas and Alaska, signs onto the movement and agrees to the general framework.  But when the rubber hits the road, adoption does not necessarily mean enactment.  We agree to the principle, but not to the practice?

I certainly hope not.  From what Eduflack has heard, the K-12 common core standards are strong, and probably stronger than most expected.  While a state like Massachusetts may have to look at how much of an improvement these proposed standards are to the current state standards, just about every other state in the union cannot deny it would be a major improvement.  The challenge is moving from the intellectual acceptance of common core to the practical adoption of the framework.