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Race to the Top

What will another Obama term mean to K12 superintendents and school districts? While indications are found in the Democratic national platform, the speeches, interviews, and K12 documents from the president, and education plans on the White House website, we asked longtime school superintendent Randall Collins, executive director of the District Administration Leadership Institute (daleadershipinstitute.com) to share professional insights. Here is his conversation with Odvard Egil Dyrli, District Administration’s executive editor.

Over the past two years in the Medway (Mass.) Public Schools, teacher evaluation entered a new era, spurred by state and Race to the Top requirements. For the past 15 years, the district used a traditional system of teacher evaluation, including classroom observations, followed by a summative review, notes Medway Superintendent Judy Evans. Administrator walkthroughs, which took less time than formal observations and provided a snapshot of teacher performance, took place only intermittently and did not include all classrooms.

An elementary school teacher at Dublin City (Ohio) Schools guides students through a group reading in class.

Principal observes teacher for 50 minutes. Principal completes checklist. Principal tells teacher what she needs to work on. Dublin City (Ohio) Schools did away with this archaic method of teacher evaluation in the 2009-2010 school year and put the emphasis on teacher self-assessment, professional learning and student-growth data after developing a tailor-made teacher evaluation tool with the help of a committee of teachers, administrators and the teachers union.

Vallas Heads to Conn.

After serving as superintendent in New Orleans, Paul Vallas was hired as interim superintendent at Bridgeport (Conn.) Public Schools. Vallas began on Jan. 2 and has been charged with developing a turnaround plan for the district within a year.

A Better Budget

After finding that the state’s predicted revenues were higher than originally projected due to employment gains, Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed restoring $89 million to the K12 education budget next year, which he had originally planned to cut.

There is some skepticism regarding the effectiveness of School Improvement Grants (SIGs) on the part of those districts that are not eligible to receive them, according to a new study released in November by the Center on Education Policy (CEP). SIGs are competitive grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to districts identified as persistently lowest achieving, a designation that applies to 15 percent of the nation’s districts. Based on the survey results, only 16 percent of ineligible districts felt the grants have been effective.

States have until Oct. 19 to submit applications for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, a competitive grant program to prepare more children, including those from low-income families, for kindergarten. The U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are investing $500 million in early learning. "Investing in the health and educational development of our youngest children is critical to ensuring America's long-term strength and competitiveness," says Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Before and during the tenure of Florida's former education commissioner, Eric J. Smith, the state made bold moves toward incorporating charter schools, began corporate "scholarship" programs that provide funding for students to attend private schools, implemented class-size caps that voters approved via referendum, and earned $700 million in federal money through round two of Race to the Top.

teacher with students

This summer, the U.S. Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Health and Human Services to invest in early childhood learning. Under the DOE's signature competitive grant program, Race to the Top, states can earn money to create robust, coordinated programs to close the school readiness gap and, in turn, reduce crime and strengthen the national economy. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the $500 million grant on May 25 and accepted public feedback on its criteria through July 11.

At a recent conference that I attended, I learned quite a bit about the development and implementation of online courses in public schools. However, I left the workshop feeling a bit discouraged, even disgusted. Not with regard to online learning; in fact, I am cautiously optimistic that online coursework will benefit students in many different ways. But the more I heard, the more I felt disillusioned.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top program in 2009, he added two success factors to the plate of school districts, which are traditionally measured by students’ high school success in math, reading and science: college enrollment rates and credit accumulation. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which launched Race to the Top, asks states to set up a longitudinal data system to report back on students’ progress after they receive their diplomas.

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