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In This Issue
Newest Race to the Top Prioritizes Public Rating Systems and Assessment
Just after a 5.8 earthquake rocked Washington, D.C., last week, the Obama administration unveiled the state application criteria for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge and what it views as the most important components of effective state early learning and development programs. Top among these are public rating systems to help families select the best programs for their children. The $500 million competition, which is jointly run by the education and health and human services departments, is intended to help more high-need children—including those from low-income families—enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
The competition promises to be fierce. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have already expressed an interest in applying, but the department will reward only a handful of states with grants ranging from $50 to $100 million.
Just as the original Race to the Top competition was organized around four assurances, this competition will evaluate state applications according to five key reform areas on a 300-point scale:
States can earn bonus points for publicly rating all of their early education programs and for having a high-quality kindergarten entry assessment.
Early childhood experts have questioned the competition's emphasis on assessment, fearing it could lead to high-stakes testing of young children, make unfair employment decisions for early educators based on test results, and detract from the importance of play and exploratory learning.
In response to such concerns, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "We will never ask three-year-olds to take bubble tests…that would just be ludicrous." He added that the assessments should be used to evaluate children’s progress and help improve programs.
Applications are due October 19, and four-year grants will be awarded at the end of December. To help states navigate the application, the Department of Education will host a webinar on September 1 and an all-day technical assistance session for state teams on September 13.
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Educators Blast Secretary with Tough Questions During Twitter Town Hall
Thousands of educators submitted questions to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as part of his first-ever #AskArne Twitter Town Hall. Many of the questions revealed deep frustration and even hostility over the perception that the Department of Education fails to listen to teachers and over-emphasizes standardized testing to the detriment of student learning.
Moderator and education journalist John Merrow chose the toughest and best questions for his 40-minute Q&A with Secretary Duncan, which covered everything from cheating scandals to the administration's stance on vouchers.
Here are some nuggets from the Q&A:
Duncan mentioned that he is interested in organizing another Twitter Town Hall, preferably in the evening so that even more educators can participate.
Feedback Wanted on Common Core Draft Content Frameworks
The two state consortia designing assessments aligned to the common core state standards are seeking public feedback on draft documents that provide an initial idea of how the new standards might be taught in the classroom and measured on tests.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is asking for input on its draft content frameworks for English language arts and math by this Wednesday, August 31. Meanwhile, the first round of feedback on the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium's draft content specifications (PDF) for English language arts is due today. A second round of feedback will be sought next month. SMARTER Balanced is expected to release its draft specifications for math sometime today and wants input on these by September 19.
Both sets of documents highlight key concepts from the standards and provide a bridge from the standards themselves to the instructional materials, professional development, and ultimately tests that will measure student mastery of the standards.
Consortia leaders believe the documents can guide district development of curricula aligned with the common core, as well as teacher planning and collaboration on specific units of study. They also provide initial cues to test makers who are waiting to submit proposals to build the common core testing systems.
Application Deadline Looms for 2011 Promise Neighborhoods Grants
Just over one week remains to submit applications for the Department of Education's 2011 Promise Neighborhoods grant program. Nonprofits, higher education institutions, and American Indian tribes are eligible to compete for the $30 million in funds to help distressed urban and rural neighborhoods build a comprehensive continuum of education programs and family services to boost student learning.
The department expects to award four to six implementation grants ranging from $4 to $6 million and a second round of 10 one-year planning grants of about $500,000 each.
The new implementation grants can be used to coordinate education, health, and safety services; increase family engagement in student learning; improve learning inside and outside of school; secure additional and sustainable funding sources; and establish data systems to record and share the community's progress.
Applications are due September 6, and winners will be selected by the end of the year.
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