Saturday, July 25, 2009

Race to the top: draft priorities

The ARRA (stimulus) legislation includes more than $4 billion for competitive Race to the Top grants. Yesterday, the U.S. Education Department released the Race to the Top "Notice of proposed priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria."

The priorities section of the draft gives the quickest overview of the kinds of work states must include to win a grant and the kinds of work they can add if they wish.

Mandatory elements
(called absolute priorities) in the draft include:
  • Standards and assessment
  • State data systems
  • Equitable distribution of effective teachers
  • Struggling schools
States already promised to work on those issues when they applied for the big fiscal stabilization funding. For Race to the Top, they'll need to go beyond promising to give a specific, systematic plan of how they'll fulfill that commitment.

Optional elements
  • Science, technology, engineering and math
  • Expansion and adaptation of state data systems
  • P-20 coordination and vertical alignment
  • School-level conditions for reform and innovation
The STEM element is called a "competitive priority," meaning that states that include a STEM plan will have a competitive edge over states that do not include that. The other three are "invitational priorities," meaning that states won't get a competitive advantage by including them.

The "school-level conditions" invitational priority is about giving schools "flexibilities and autonomies conducive to reform and innovation." The examples include power to select staff and set budgets, to change the school day or year to add learning time, and to provide "comprehensive services to high-need students"--a list that sounds to me remarkably like Kentucky SBDM, ESS, and FRYSCs. One more example includes giving students credit for performance rather than seat time, which has has been an underused option here for a decade--and might be a good target for some strategic investments.

Comments over the next thirty days will be the next step, after which USED will decide on the final rules and invite states to start writing their applications for the money.

Here, you can:
  • read Secretary Duncan's op-ed explaining the program
  • watch President Obama's official announcement
  • download a summary of the program with more details
  • download the entire 80+ page official Notice

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