Race to the Top
What is Race to the Top (RTTT)?
Race to the Top is a competitive federal grant program intended to spur educational innovations in the nation's poorest performing schools. It was created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The RTTT fund is going to be distributed in two different phases and totals $4.35 billion.
Key RTTT Focus
RTTT encourages a focus on four key areas:
• Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
• Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
• Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
• Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
States that wish to apply for the competitive RTTT funding must adhere to the following schedule:
Phase 1 Applications Due: January 19, 2010
Phase 1 Awards Announced: April 2010 (Note: confirmed by the Bluegrass Institute to be “early” April
Phase 2 Applications Due: June 1, 2010
Phase 2 Awards Announced: September 2010
Note that the scheduled award announcement for Phase 1 could come very close to, or after the close of the current Kentucky legislative session. The exact date for the April announcement has not been released.
How the competition works
Bid packages from the states will be assessed by peer review committees using a pre-announced scoring system. Points are to be awarded as follows:
A. State Success Factors (125 points)
(A)(1) Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEAs’ participation in it (65 points)
(A)(2) Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans (30 points)
(A)(3) Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)
B. Standards and Assessments (70 points)
(B)(1) Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
(B)(2) Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
(B)(3) Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments (20 points)
C. Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)
(C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system (24 points)
(C)(2) Accessing and using State data (5 points)
(C)(3) Using data to improve instruction (18 points)
D. Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
(D)(1) Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
(D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
(D)(3) Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
(D)(4) Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
(D)(5) Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)
E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)
(E)(1) Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
(E)(2) Turning around the lowest- achieving schools (40 points)
F. General Selection Criteria (55 points)
(F)(1) Making education funding a priority (10 points)
(F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools (40 points)
(F)(3) Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)
Some Kentucky’s pluses in the RTTT competition
For sure, the state is going to tout our minor improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). That might work unless the peer reviewers are savvy enough to look at the disaggregated NAEP data and note that much of Kentucky’s apparent improvement appears to be due to our strong advantage of a very stable, white population. Kentucky is almost universally English as a first language, as well.
Kentucky is also doing some interesting things with its Master of Education degree program, which could draw favor from the peer reviewers. However, other states are also working in this area, making a winner hard to call.
Senate Bill 1 from 2008 could provide good ammunition
Kentucky is promising to do important work in the area judged by item B, thanks to Senate Bill 1 of the 2009 Regular Session. That might be a plus, though our current lack of any state assessment program and our rather dismal history with assessments (two tried, KIRIS and CATS, two failed), could work against us.
The peer review committee could look favorably on Kentucky’s aggressive plan to fix our assessments in Senate Bill 1, or they could consider our past track record and lack of any current statewide assessment to be a detriment. We won’t know until the announcement of the winners in Phase 1 of RTTT is made in April.
Certainly, the governor’s recent announcements about trying to hold the line on education spending despite the current fiscal crisis is going to earn points under Item (F)(1).
Kentucky’s potential minus in the RTTT competition
No charter schools
Kentucky may do very well in some of the RTT areas but currently will forfeit all points in Item (F)(2), which entails 40 points. We will lose those points because the state has no charter schools.
Some think our School Based Decision Making Councils can recoup about 5 of those lost points, but that will be up to the peer review committee to finally determine.
If the current legislative session passes a charter school bill, Kentucky could do very well in the Item (F)(2) area.
We’re well behind on data systems
Kentucky may also have problems making a strong case with the Data Systems to Support Instruction area. All we can offer is promises. Our first attempt at such a system, called STI, was cancelled several years ago. The replacement, called “Infinite Campus,” has encountered start up issues and must be fully operational for four years before Kentucky can provide the first high quality graduation rate information. At present, the Kentucky Department of Education has announced the first public release of high quality graduation rate data from Infinite Campus won’t be made before 2014 (See Appendix B in the 2009 Nonacademic Report for that announcement).
The failure of CATS could be a drag despite Senate Bill 1
History shows Kentucky has been bold, but not brilliant, with state assessments.
The well-publicized cancellation of the CATS system is another potential problem for a RTTT competition. CATS data was not reliable, and it could not be intelligently used to improve instruction because it wasn’t valid and reliable for individual students. Senate Bill 1 from the 2008 Kentucky Regular Legislative Session should remedy these deficiencies, but the new assessment program won’t come on line for several more years, if the rather demanding schedule to create it can be kept.
Meanwhile, other states are way ahead of Kentucky in the longitudinal area. Tennessee, for example, has had longitudinal assessments, known as the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, and the data systems to support them, on line for nearly two decades. Other states like North Carolina also have value-added assessments in place and operating now. They can offer baseline performance data right now that Kentucky simply will be unable to match. If the peer reviewers want to see measurable results from the RTTT effort, Kentucky won’t look attractive.
For more on RTTT
The US Department of Education has very extensive documentation about this huge competitive education finance sweepstakes on line here.
Also see the Wiki discussion of the supporting Kentucky legislation for Race to the Top, House Bill 176 of the 2010 regular legislative session.
Typical Opposition Position vs. The Facts
Typical Opposition Position House Bill 176 opens the door to bring External Management Organizations to Kentucky’s failing schools without needing charter legislation. So, what is the advantage here of charter schools?
The Facts Dr. Terry Holliday did testify that HB 176 would offer this option, citing the possibility of bringing school management models like the KIPP schools, the Green Dot schools and the Edison schools. We checked with the KIPP schools, and they won’t even consider entering a state without a charter school provision. They absolutely need the flexibility of charter schools in order to operate their system properly. Ditto for our conversation with Green Dot Schools. Green dot isn’t interested in Kentucky either.
Typical Opposition Position We didn’t need to rush a charter school provision into HB 176 because we can always add one later if Kentucky doesn’t get any first-round money from the federal Race to the Top fund (RTTT).
The Facts The fact is that the RTTT Phase 1 award announcement won’t come until “early April.” There may not be enough time left in the current legislative session to pass a charter school bill. The deadline for submitting a Phase 2 request is June 1, 2010, which offers little time to call a special session to pass a bill. Also, legislators are very reluctant to come back to Frankfort so soon after the close of a long regular session. This Phase 2 argument could be a real gamble for Kentucky, and it could lose us all the competition money.
Typical Opposition Position We don’t favor charter schools. For example, after a charter school amendment to House Bill 176 was voted down, the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association posted a note to their members that said, “Thank you to all who answered the call and helped defeat charter schools in Kentucky!”
The Facts That’s strange. Even the national NEA web site doesn’t say that they are totally against charter schools. In fact, they list a number of reasons why charters are a valid option. Of course, the NEA wants firm local board control and full enforcement of union contracts in those charters, but those creativity-stifling requirements don’t undermine the appreciation that charters can be important laboratories to find out what really works for kids. The NEA even admits, “In order to achieve their intended educational outcomes, it may be necessary for charter schools to be freed from some of the requirements that apply to mainstream public schools, and have increased autonomy in regard to such matters as curriculum, instruction, staffing, budget, internal organization, calendar, and schedule”.