Last week, Eduflack wrote about recent efforts by Congress to provide some needed funding for teachers’ jobs by cutting funding for many of the education reforms, like Race to the Top, just enacted or increased last year. Today, I’ve got some additional thoughts on the matter over at edReformer. In this post, I ask whether we really should be sacrificing school improvement for a year of teachers’ salaries, and if we do, who ultimately pays the price?
How do you solve a problem like Rick Perry?
As we all know, last year Congress made $787 billion available to the states, in the name of economic stimulus, to help unstick many of the funding streams that states were stuck on. Chief among these streams is K-12 education, as states were handed buckets of cash to jumpstart education spending, fill funding gaps, and ensure that school budgets did not face measureable cuts in the name of the economic downturn.
Most states put the money to use as intended (though Eduflack still offers that the original intent of ARRA was NOT to spend stimulus dollars on one or two years’ of teachers’ salaries, but I’ve clearly lost that argument). But a few, including Texas, didn’t quite do as they were told. Just as Texas refused to apply for a Race to the Top grant citing its independence and general superiority to every other state in the union, the state’s governor, Rick Perry, chose to violate the strings attached to those original stimulus checks.
When dollars were electronically transferred to the states in 2009, each state had to pledge that, when it came to K-12 education, the money was to boost education funding. States were not to take the federal handout and then cut the state’s own contribution to education, essentially playing a short-term funding shell game. The worry, of course, is if the states cut their share this year, and there is no federal support in the following year, that cut will never be regained.
Of course, Texas got $3 billion last year under the stimulus specifically designated for education. And Perry critics have been quick to note that the Republic of Texas cut the state’s share of education funding, using those federal dollars to make up the difference. So instead of the intended increased investment in public education, Texas held flat, with a real risk that future budgets will decrease, following the state contribution trend.
As expected, Congress is hot under the collar about Texas not following the rules (including the never shy Texas Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett). So the U.S. House of Representatives figured out a workaround for their Perry problem. In the supplemental appropriations bill passed by the House last week (the one including new funding for edujobs), Democratic congressmen decided to bypass Governor Perry and offer education dollars directly to Texas school districts (including Doggett’s home city of Austin).
The plan is simple. Texas school districts are eligible to receive more than $800 million to help pay for teachers’ salaries. But there is one catch. Those Independent School Districts seeking such federal assistance need to have the Good Governor certify that the state won’t cut education funding (or at least won’t cut it more than anything else in the upcoming Texas budget). Get the assurance, get the money. Fail to get it, and you can blame your governor for potential teacher layoffs. The full story can be found here in the Houston Chronicle’s Texas on the Potomac blog.
Congress definitely deserves points for creativity. But isn’t such an action just a little bit punitive? Are we slapping Perry’s hand because he didn’t want to play ball on RttT or because he doesn’t want to ride the wave that is common core standards? Are we angered that Texas continues to maintain its K-12 superiority? Are we troubled that the usually effective federal funding carrot wouldn’t work with this Texas mustang?
If the name of the game is indeed student achievement and boosting student academic performance, we can’t lose sight of that. If Congress is going to make edujobs money a federal requirement, like Title I and IDEA, then they just need to do that. But playing games like this (with a Governor who seems to enjoy a good game of chicken) is just bad politics. Lasting school improvement comes when the feds are supporting state and local efforts. It doesn’t come when the feds look to drive a wedge between the LEA and the SEA, making the school district choose between the governor and Congress like a bad TV divorce.
We should be looking for ways to bring Texas into the national ed reform fold, not offering reasons for the Lone Star State to snub DC and hurt its school districts in the process. Threats and ultimatums aren’t quite the way to get Texas to go along. Thousands of good teachers are likely to pay the price, by not getting that federal edujobs money, but tens of thousands of Texas students will truly pay as state- and district-led improvement efforts are slowed or diverted to make up for the lack of federal cash.
This quick little workaround in a quick little supplemental spending bill could have lasting impact.
Short-term pain relief or long-term improvement? That seems to be the choice that is currently facing Congress, as the House debates how to fund “edujobs,” the federal relief necessary to supposedly save hundreds of thousands of teachers’ jobs in this difficult economy.
We all assume that governors and their appointed education commissioners (or state superintendents or secretaries of education) will generally get along. When the top ed job is appointed (as opposed to many states that actually elect the educator-in-chief), the gov and the ed commish tend to hail from the same party. We assume they share the same general philosophy. And we most certainly expect that the commish serves at the pleasure of the governor, and is on the same page agenda wise (at least publicly).
But then we have those great political states like New Jersey, the state dear ol’ Eduflack is mostly likely to call home. After reading the political soap opera that is education policy and politics in the Garden State, a state known for bare-knuckle politics, we are now seeing the best and worst of it on the education front.
For those who haven’t been turning into the telenovela, here’s what you missed. Gov. Chris Christie was elected last November despite the incredible vitriol and massive campaign attacks waged by the New Jersey Education Association. NJEA expected Christie would then play ball with them, as they are a powerful labor union in a state that generally appreciates powerful labor unions, but he refused (and who can blame him, after the attacks he suffered during the campaign). On Christie’s first day of office, New Jersey submitted a Phase One Race to the Top app, based largely on the wishes of NJEA. The application didn’t make the cut, and NJ was not a Phase One finalist. Christie appoints Bret Schundler, champion of charter schools, as the state education commissioner. Schundler reworks the state’s RttT app, based on reviewer feedbak, and cuts a deal with NJEA to make the state’s recommended teacher quality provisions (particularly on seniority and incentive pay) palatable to the union so they sign on. Folks are shocked the Christie Administration and NJEA reach detente. Then, before the app is submitted, Christie swoops in, says he agreed to no such deal with NJEA, and changes the RttT application to reflect his preferences and reject NJEA’s needs with regard to teacher quality measures. The RttT app was then submitted to the feds last week in Christie’s image, the NJEA (and Schundler) be damned. With me so far?
Immediately following Christie’s charge up RttT Hill, some presumed that Schundler’s days would be numbered. After all, how could a Christie lieutenant strike a deal with Public Enemy Number One? The Newark Star-Ledger editorial board now says that Schundler’s “credibility is in jeopardy.” The folks over at NJ Left Behind wonder if Christie and Schundler are playing “good cop-bad cop” with the teachers’ union in the name of progress?
Back in January, Eduflack was so bold as to suggest that New Jersey should have pulled its Phase One application. Christie should have demonstrated his strength on Day One, declared that the hard work of his predecessor did not reflect his educational priorities as the state’s new governor, and spend the next few months crafting an application in his own image. Instead, the app went forward. New Jersey came in 18th place, and the rework has been in process for the past few months.
So where does New Jersey go from here? Some seem to think the current application is damaged goods, that the loss of union support will be too great for Joysey to overcome. Those critics forget, though, that US EdSec Arne Duncan has been preaching that strong reform is more important that kumbaya universal buy-in. So do ed reformers in New Jersey now need to pick sides, choosing Camp Christie or Camp Bret?
Hardly. Christie made a shrewd political move. He knows it is still a long shot that New Jersey will win a RttT grant. (Particularly with Duncan saying there may only be another 10 or so winners). If NJ wins, Christie wants to do so on his own terms. Winning Race means having to take on new responsibilities in reporting and accountability. It also likely means having to pony in additional dollars from the state coffers to make good on the promises to the feds. If Christie is going to do that, in what is a disastrous financial climate in his state, he needs to do it on his terms. His house, his rules, if you will. He won the election, so folks can do it his way or no way at all. With so many strings attached to the funding, and the US Department of Education talking about withdrawing funding if they find the application is not being followed to the letter, it is only natural for Christie to seek to pull as many of the strings involved here as possible.
And as for Schundler? He deserves major points for reaching out and trying to actually work with NJEA. Yes, his credibility with the union may be a little damaged in the short term. He now needs to demonstrate he can deliver on the specific deals he may cut. (And that requires a team at the State Department of Ed cast in his image, which is in process.) But he’s shown a willingness to deal and has demonstrated a bit on an independent streak from the good governor. Whether that was intended or not, it can now be used to help move specific state efforts on other school improvement efforts.
Now is the time for both leaders to put a bold, yet simple, plan for education improvement forward. Communities across the state have turned back efforts to raise taxes to provide additional dollars for the schools. Now is the time for the state to step forward and issue three challeges, challenges focused on outcomes and students. For instance, scrap efforts to award high school diplomas to anyone who is 18 and with a pulse and ensure that a NJ high school diploma means more than an attendance certificate. Figure out what is working in places like Newark and replicating those programs and initiatives in other struggling urban centers. Implement a real strategic plan for charter school expansion across the state. Even figure out the best practices that can be learned from the Abbott Schools, and apply them in other schools (without the promise of big dollars).
Address a couple of those issues, offer some measurements to know the state is making progress, and remind parents, business leaders, and even teachers’ unions of what you are doing and why you are doing it, and you could have some real progress. Christie provides the global vision, Schundler leads the troops on the ground. All get to declare victory.
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.
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.
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 …
Last week, the U.S. Department of Education officially announced that $350 million designated under the Race to the Top program would be made available to several consortia to develop student assessments aligned with the common core standards states are expected to adopt later this year. The big question many of those watching the assessment discussions are now asking is how different will these next generation assessments be compared to the state tests that have governed the NCLB/AYP era.
Even before taking office, President Obama often expressed frustration and dismay with “bubble tests.” A little over a year ago, as part of his education transformation agenda launch, the President stated: “I am calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, entrepreneurship and creativity.”
So now that that $350 million is about to hit the streets, what exactly does moving beyond the bubbles on the test look like? That was one of the questions that the National Academy of Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) asked at a policy forum yesterday titled, “What Do We Know About High Quality Performance Assessment?”
The forum spotlighted a series of new research papers released by SCOPE as part of a Ford Foundation-funded effort to focus on the performance assessment issue. The full documents can be found here .
The takeaways from the SCOPE papers focused on three key issues researchers recommended that next-gen performance assessments needs to address:
* Careful task design based on a clear understanding of the specific knowledge and skills to be assessed and how they develop cognitively
* Reliable scoring systems based on standardization of tasks and well-designed scoring rubrics
* Methods for ensuring fairness based on the use of universal design principles
While NAEd and SCOPE were all about the research, perhaps the most provocative part of the forum was the policy discussion. Jack Jennings, the long-time President and CEO of the Center on Education Policy, suggested that accountability efforts should be put on hold for the next three or five years until we have a better understanding of what we know and what we need (particularly coming out of the AYP era). Jennings suggested piloting a range of assessment strategies (the inspectorates advocated by the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, next gen AYP tests, portfolios, performance assessments, etc.), letting states try one, and then evaluating where we are after a few years.
Chris Cross, the President of Cross & Joftus and former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, quickly noted that the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to testing and assessment, and the only choice is to continue moving forward. And Cross is right, taking a step back or shuffling sideways provides no value at this stage of the school improvement game. The game is all about improving our testing and assessment efforts, not providing a cooling off period for folks to ease up on accountability.
So where does this leave us? First, we need to recognize that all of these issues found in ESEA, RttT, and other federal programs are not islands unto themselves. If we are serious about building a better performance assessment system, that means finding stronger ways to integrate curriculum, teacher development and supports, standards, and tests.
Second, we need to pay more attention to how such assessments are scored. There is tremendous work currently being done with regard to innovative, machine-scored items on fixed and adaptive forms. Such work needs to be central to the assessment consortia and their plans for our coming common core world. At the same time, we need to spend greater effort getting actual classroom teachers in on the scoring, using it as professional development tool.
Perhaps most importantly, though, we need to recognize that we don’t have much time to wait here. The flaw in Jennings’ model is that waiting three or five years means losing an entire generation of students to gaps, cracks, and failures. Instead, we should be accelerating our efforts to get better tests, aligned with common standards, into our states, districts, and schools as quickly as possible. Build off of what is working and those pockets of promising practice. Move from bubble sheets to computers (complete with open-answer questions). Figure out how we go from just knowing the right answers to knowing what to do with the right answers after test day is done. Act now, with a commitment to continuous improvement.
(Full disclosure, Eduflack has helped Stanford University School of Education with the launch of SCOPE.)
The rubrics have been analyzed, the numbers have been tallied, and it looks like we finally have our Phase One Race to the Top winners. While the announcement goes official later this afternoon, the early reports this morning seem to confirm that Delaware and Tennessee are the only states that will walk away with Phase One RttT checks. Michele McNeil over at Politics K-12 has some of the initial breakdown here.
For the record, both Delaware and Tennessee had good applications. But these selections are going to surprise a lot of people, particularly as we wait for the wonks to truly dissect the 500-point scorecards for each state. Eduflack has long thought that Tennessee had one of the best applications in the pool, but I thought it was just a notch behind Florida and Louisiana (in fairness, I actually thought Illinois had the best app I read, but knew that couldn’t win for a host of reasons), and it would be tough to award three grants to three states in the same region. So I long believed Tennessee would be a slam dunk for Phase Two.
As for Delaware, it had a lot of positives going for it, perhaps the greatest of which was it was a small state that we expect can move quickly to enact wholesale school reform across the entire state. It is important to note, however, that Delaware was one of only two of the 16 finalists NOT to have financial support from the Gates Foundation. So message sent.
So what does it all mean? First and foremost, the U.S. Department of Education is sending a clear message — “game on!” Of the $4 billion available in RttT, there is still now $3.725 billion remaining in the pot. That’s a lot of money for Phase Two, and will require a great deal of scrambling from states over the next two months. Those who failed to make the cut have been working for the last month on their new apps. Now the remaining 14 finalists have to ramp back up their proposal teams to get back on the horse.
ED also selected two states that will be difficult for other states to replicate. There are few, if any, states that have the political climate, education changes, and philanthropic dollars coming in as Tennessee does. And when you look at states in the Volunteer State’s price range, almost none can take the Tennessee application, run a search and replace, and submit it as their own.
The same is true in Delaware, where the size and demographics make it unique. Couple in charter schools being run through the state office and other factors, and few will copy. After all, it is not like Rhode Island is going to now crib from Delaware.
This afternoon, I expect officials from ED to send us some clear messages. “We have always told you this would be highly competitive.” “Only the best of the best applications will win.” “No one should expect they are entitled.” “Politics played no official role here.” “We have now set the bar higher for every Phase Two applicant.” And so on and so on.
And what about the other front runners? Eduflack still expected both Florida and Louisiana to win a RttT grant. If I was a betting man (and clearly I should stay away from the racetracks these days), I would say Florida didn’t win because of the weak support from the state’s teachers’ unions. And the cynic in me says some may not have wanted Florida to win $700 million before the Republican U.S. Senate primary is completed. In Louisiana, the opposition from state school boards likely hurt, as did the fact the state has so much happening, but is still trying to assemble the proof points to demonstrate what is working.
The big question now is whether ED will spend the full $4 billion by September 30 or not. Even if you award every other Phase One winner a grant in Phase Two, there will still be money remaining in the pot. So will it all go out, or will it be reconstituted before the end of the budget year?
Regardless, congrats to both Delaware and Tennessee. You put together strong applications and have taken some real steps toward education improvement. Now all eyes will be on you. And, fair or not, we all expect to see results within a year.
UPDATE — ED has now made it official, before noon EDT. One important note in the official announcement. ED states that Delaware will win $100 million, and Tennessee walks away with $500 million. That means that the award ranges, released by ED back in November, may now be removed. Delaware was supposed to only receive up to $75 million, so it gets a 33 percent bump. And Tennessee doubling its $250 million supposed cap. Does that mean we may see a $1 billion winner in Phase Two?
According to the good folks over at Politics K-12, the U.S. Department of Education intends to announce its Race to the Top Phase One winners on Monday afternoon. If you will recall, 16 states — Colorado, Delaware, DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee — made the cut as finalists. All were asked to show their wares before the RttT reviewer panel in DC last week.