Education Week - September 19, 2012 - (Page 23)

EDUCATION WEEK n SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 n 23 GOVERNMENT & POLITICS POLICY BRIEF Race to Top Winners Plug Away at Promises Making plans real is proving a challenge at grants’ midpoint By Michele McNeil As the 12 Race to the Top winners reach the midpoint of their four-year, $4 billion federal grant program, states are shifting their work from the planning stages to what is perhaps the more difficult part: implementing new programs and school improvement efforts in the classroom. This critical midpoint comes as President Barack Obama, who considers the initiative one of his signature domestic-policy achievements, campaigns for a second term. Race to the Top became a bragging point in several speeches at the Democratic National Convention this month, while some of its components took a beating at the Republicans’ gathering last month. (See Education Week, Sept. 12, 2012.) Race to the Top was even invoked last week during the Chicago teachers’ strike because revamping teacher evaluations to include student performance—a key sticking point between the union and the district—is also a focus of the grant competition. As states start the third year of Race to the Top, changes start hitting the classroom in earnest. Six states, for example, have committed to implementing the Common Core State Standards this year. Several states, including Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii, continue to roll out new teacher-evaluation systems that incorporate student learning gains as they promised to do in their Race to the Top plans. “The harder piece is in year three or year four, in terms of how states support districts and making sure it’s not siloed education reform,” said Ann Whalen, the director of policy and program implementation for the U.S. Department of Education. “We are two years into a four-year grant, but this is more than a four-year grant, this is a long-term investment in reform,” Ms. Whalen said. “This is to invest to create the structures and to build off of the work that has begun.” modernizing their data systems. States also have strained to get contracts awarded on time, and to get new teacher- and principalrecruitment efforts off the ground. Implementation problems over teacher evaluations in two states— Georgia and Hawaii—earned those states “high risk” designation by the Education Department, meaning at least a portion of their grants could be taken away if federal officials don’t see improvement. And, of the $4 billion awarded, $3 billion remains for states to spend. (States have four years from the time their grants were awarded to spend their money, but can ask for a one-year extension that the Education Department will consider on a case-by-case basis.) Race to the Top, which started in 2010 with a $4 billion general school reform competition funded PAGE 24 > Line Still Growing For NCLB Waivers The list of states seeking waivers from the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind Act continues to grow, as seven more want flexibility on some of the cornerstone provisions of the decade-old federal accountability law. The addition of Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and West Virginia to the list means 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, have now either secured a waiver or asked for one. “This is truly a nationwide movement,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a Sept. 10 statement. The six states that, so far, have not requested a waiver include two with large student populations: Pennsylvania and Texas. Montana, Nebraska, Vermont, and Wyoming are also on the list. Last year, the Obama administration said that as it waited for Congress to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose latest version is the nclb law, it would grant waivers on a voluntary basis to states that adopted certain ideas for improving education. In exchange for flexibility on key parts of the law—including that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year—states had to commit to, among other things, building their own differentiated accountability systems and crafting teacher and principal evaluations that factor in student performance. n Clock Ticking This halfway point also means the clock is ticking for states to make good on promises they made to win the money back in 2010. In addition to implementing of new teacher-evaluation systems, states are encountering big challenges Chiefs’ Vacancies Offer Prospect of Policy Shifts By Andrew Ujifusa Several job openings for state schools chiefs could provide momentum for advocates seeking to push new policies or build on current ones in areas ranging from expanded charter school options to early-literacy requirements. In Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, and Utah, in particular, governors and state education boards will be vetting candidates with an eye toward advancing politically sensitive policy initiatives both underway and on the horizon. And for some observers, Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment last month of tea party activist and former federal education official Michael Williams to lead the Texas Education Agency is seen as a harbinger for states looking for new types of leaders for state departments. Jeanne Allen, the president of the Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which supports vouchers and changes to traditional collective bargaining practices, among other policy initiatives, said she was thrilled by Mr. Williams’ selection, given his long record as a proponent of school choice. “The reality is that they can be ... a strong leader on their own, and can indeed break china,” Ms. Allen said of new superintendents. From one point of view, states with vacancies and elected officials eager to begin signature policy initiatives could look for role models in Chiefs for Change, a group of state chiefs whose shared agenda includes support for such policies as school choice expansion and linking teacher ratings to student performance. Members include Hanna Skandera in New Mexico, Tony Bennett in Indiana, and Tom Luna in Idaho; all three states have Republican governors. But Cynthia Brown, the vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank, noted that several state chiefs who work with Democratic governors “are really committed to similar kinds of reform [but] have chosen not to join Chiefs for Change.” She cited state chiefs John King, in New York, and Stefan Pryor, in Connecticut. STATE LEADERSHIP OPENINGS The top K-12 official’s position is open or soon to be open in several states, with politically sensitive policy issues in play. FLORIDA The Sunshine State, which has inspired many recent education measures around the country, is looking for a replacement for former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who resigned after just one year on the job. The state board of education, whose members are appointed by the governor, will select the next commissioner. OHIO The last permanent superintendent, Stan Heffner, stepped down over the summer after a report raised ethical questions about his conduct in office. The state board of education, which is composed of both appointed and elected members, will select the next superintendent. MISSISSIPPI Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, gave a speech in the state capital in August saying the state was ready for “bold education reform” in terms of accountability and transparency. The state board of education, which is composed of members appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the House speaker, will appoint the next superintendent. UTAH Outgoing Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry Shumway has earned praise for his work on digital learning and pay-for-performance for teachers, but his departure means that the Common Core State Standards are losing a prominent defender in the state. The state board of education, which is elected, will appoint the next superintendent. SOURCE: National Association of State Boards of Education Mississippi Eyes Florida In the view of some education advocates, Mississippi has reached a tipping point on school policy, and only needs a new education chief for the final push to the brand of change championed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Tom Burnham retired from his second stint as state superintendent at the end of June. In an August speech in the state, Mr. Bush, the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which promotes policies including digital learning and expanded school choice, said he was anticipating “bold education reform” there: “Like Florida 15 years ago, Mississippi is ripe for studentcentered reforms that foster high expectations, accountability, and transparency in public education.” Patricia Levesque, the executive director of the Tallahassee, Fla.-based foundation, which is affiliated with Chiefs for Change, said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, has expressed willingness to spend “political capital” on the kind of measures Mr. Bush mentioned, and many legislators have indicated they will help, she said. “As long as they pick a reform- minded education chief, and all signs point to that’s what they want to do, they will have all the ingredients to pass all the right laws,” Ms. Levesque said. (The state’s governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker select members of the state school board, which will select the next superintendent.) A recent investigation by a newspaper in Maine, meanwhile, has PAGE 25 > It’s those strings that have drawn the ire of some states, including California and Texas. Although California has sought a waiver, it has crafted its own application outside the federal Education Department’s process: The state wants flexibility without committing to most of the strings. The department hasn’t ruled on the request. And now Texas has notified its school districts that it plans to submit an application for flexibility, also on its own terms. “This allows us to define the waiver request without agreeing to the strings that were attached to the nclb waiver,” Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said. Since Texas has not submitted its request yet, a federal Education Department spokesman said he would have no comment on the state’s —MICHELE McNEIL plans.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 19, 2012

Education Week - September 19, 2012
Table of Contents
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Low Proficiency Seen on Computer-Based NAEP Writing Exam
Global Study Finds U.S. Trailing In Early-Childhood Education
Scholars and Educators Team Up For the Long Haul
Focus On: School Turnaround
Virtual Ed. Providers Work to Influence State Policy in Maine
Blogs of the Week
In Designated Schools, Children Play Waiting Games
Chicago Dispute Puts Spotlight On Teacher Evaluation
Race to Top Winners Plug Away At Promises
Chiefs’ Vacancies Offer Prospect Of Policy Shifts
Policy Brief
Learning From Success
Using National Service To Ignite School Turnaround Efforts
You Don’t Know Me
TopSchool Jobs Recruitment Marketplace
Schooling Beyond Measure

Education Week - September 19, 2012