December 4, 2012
Usual Suspects and Notable Absences Among Race to the Top District Finalists
The U.S. Department of Education selected 61 applicants as finalists for the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition. The $400 million program will support local plans to create personalized learning environments for students.
The finalists, chosen from 372 applicants, now have the chance to win one of 15 to 25 awards ranging from $5 million to $40 million based on the population of students served. The finalists represent 28 states and the District of Columbia, and include some of the country’s largest school districts—such as Boston, Dallas, New York City, Miami-Dade, and Philadelphia—as well as much smaller districts in rural areas. Los Angeles Unified School District is conspicuously absent from the list of finalists. Like some other districts, it was unable to obtain the necessary sign off on the plan from the district’s teachers union.
The competition is just one of the department’s many efforts to drive education reform at the district level; the Promise Neighborhoods and Investing in Innovation grant programs similarly leverage federal dollars to spur local improvements. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan revealed that the more controversial idea to provide district-level No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waivers to districts in the 16 states that haven’t yet received state-level NCLB waivers is still on the table. The concept has created great consternation among state education officials who believe that such a move undermines state authority and would lead to a confusing jumble of multiple accountability and school improvement systems within a single state.
The RTT-D awards will be announced no later than December 31, 2012.
Access the full list of applicants (PDF) and the list of finalists by state.
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School Improvement Grants Data Show Mixed Results
The U.S. Department of Education released much-anticipated student performance data from schools that have received federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs), and the data indicate that the success of the $3 billion program—which represents the largest-ever federal investment in school improvement—is far from clear.
After one year of implementing the SIG program, two-thirds of schools showed gains in math and two-thirds showed gains in reading. However, one-third of schools had achievement dips for each subject area. In addition, performance boosts were harder to attain at the middle and high school levels. For example, 70 percent of elementary schools posted reading gains compared to 59 percent of middle schools and 62 percent of high schools. No significant performance differences existed among rural, suburban, and urban schools.
The department cautions that the data represent a very initial look at the performance of SIG schools and that it’s too early to establish a causal connection between SIG funds and school performance. In January, the department will release state-by-state SIG assessment data; it’s also collecting additional data that will provide a more comprehensive picture of performance in SIG schools, including student and teacher attendance rates and enrollment in advanced courses.
For now, the mixed results could make it difficult to convince members of Congress, many of whom are already skeptical about the efficacy of investing in the administration’s competitive grant programs, to continue to fund the SIG program.
See the department’s SIG data snapshot (PDF).
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Changes Afoot at the Department of Ed
Key U.S. Department of Education officials have announced that they intend to leave at the end of President Obama’s first term, including Karen Cator, director of education technology, and Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications and outreach, though they may not be the last.
During her time with the Obama administration, Cator’s office released the National Education Technology Plan, which puts forth five goals for how the nation’s education system should leverage technology in the areas of learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. The office has also explored ways to use technology to support educators; its Connected Educators project focuses on strengthening online professional learning communities for educators. Cator’s replacement has not yet been announced.
Cunningham, who worked with Secretary Duncan when he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, is one of the secretary’s key advisors. His office oversees press relations and has greatly expanded the department’s and Duncan’s use of social media to connect with parents, educators, students, and the general public. Massie Ritsch, who is currently the deputy assistant secretary for external affairs and outreach, will become acting assistant secretary on Cunningham’s departure.
Rumors suggest that Tony Miller, deputy secretary and chief operating officer, may also leave the department. Some turnover between presidential terms is not unusual. For his part, Duncan has emphasized that he will remain in his role and hopes to increase the department’s focus on improving teacher and principal quality and early education.
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Get Your Education Scoop at LILA
Now that the U.S. public has reelected a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate, will renewal of the nation’s main federal education law remain at a standstill? What are the Obama administration’s second-term education priorities? How can educators stand up for their profession?
Register for ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA), to be held January 27–29, 2013, at the Westin Georgetown Hotel in Washington, D.C., to learn the answers to these questions and more.
Attendees will participate in an up-close-and-personal keynote session with Diane Ravitch, the renowned education historian, author, and professor, who will share her unfiltered commentary on the latest trends in education reform and answer participant questions. Attendees will also meet with their federal lawmakers to discuss education policies and share their expertise.
Register for this premier legislative conference today and access the conference agenda as well as the registration and travel information. Questions? Contact ASCD’s policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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