Schools sprinting to win Obama's Race to the Top billions
In speech Wednesday, Obama touts his $4.35 billion bid to reshape education in America. Schools nationwide are eager to compete for Race to the Top funds.
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But the innovative design has given the money an outsize influence, say analysts – the promise of extra funds and the prestige that comes with it spurring states to demonstrate that they’re worthy.Skip to next paragraph
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“This is very historic…. You’re looking at a fundamental redefining of the federal role,” says Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. With the guidelines that the administration has set forward, he adds, “there’s an established criteria for what it means to be a reform-minded governor or an education leader… The prestige is proving almost as valuable as the money.”
Four key areas of reform
In its draft guidelines for the fund, released in July, the administration announced it would be focusing on four key areas:
• Enacting internationally benchmarked standards, and tying assessments to them.
• Attracting and retaining good teachers, including measures such as performance pay and achievement-based evaluation systems.
• Improving data collection and using it to drive instruction.
• Using effective turnaround approaches for failing schools.
The right reforms?
Mr. Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution applauds the general guidelines in the reform, though he questions some of the particulars.
“It’s been a mistake to ignore curriculum,” he says. Evidence suggests a high-quality curriculum can make enormous difference in student achievement, he adds.
Whitehurst also questions the decision to place so much emphasis on charter schools and on turning around failing schools, calling such strategies more “hopeful” than “evidence-based.”
Be that as it may, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “today has more money at his disposal to bring about change than any secretary of education has ever had,” says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington.
To Mr. Jennings, the priorities that Race to the Top emphasizes seem aligned with where school reform is headed.
“This is the next wave of school reform, and it’s eclipsing No Child Left Behind,” Jennings says. “The conversation has shifted to charter schools, data systems, tying pay to performance, and common standards. It’s as if we’ve moved on.”
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