Archive for the ‘Race tot he Top’ Category

Wednesday the House Education Committee tabled HB 380.  The purpose of this bill is to revise the Delaware Charter School law by among other things requiring charter school applications be submitted to local school boards for review and consideration, require a face-to-face meeting with the charter school applicant to review and discuss the application, requiring statements about the impact on school district enrollment and financial programs, and eliminating five mile draw boundary.

The objectives of HB 380 seem reasonable until questions from House Members and testimony by the Charter Schools Network, CRI, Department of Education and other interested groups pointed out issues with the bill. Problems that include the application process, impact statements, administration of lotteries, the emphasis on the system taking focus away from the student, the logistical impact on families that would have made teacher and parent interaction difficult if not impossible for some, and the potential for influence  by unions and other special interest groups with specific agendas.


Rep Jaques’ intent was to start a conversation about Charter Schools and to promote a more civil discourse. He accomplished his purpose and after hearing all the discussion decided the bill should be tabled.

The focus now switches to Rep Schooley’s ‘blue ribbon’ committee on Charter Schools. She briefly outlined her plan at the end of the discussion on the Charter School Bill.

CRI is disappointed she continues to focus on one small part of the overall education system. A part that is less than 10% of the total K-12 enrollment, has some really stunning successes, and has a 58% minority enrollment. We agree they can be even better however they do not deserve the attention given them particularly when the larger problem of how poorly prepared students are for college or careers.

The focus must be on how to improve the education experience and results for all children in the total system including charter schools.

Over the past few years across the country there has been a revolution in innovation. Charter schools were created nearly twenty years ago to improve total student learning and to encourage different and innovated learning methods in exchange for being freed from some onerous regulations and influence; but charters are not enough.

Today innovation challenges the model of single or limited school choice. One model just doesn’t fit the diversity of student and family issues when there are available many different methods with private, religious, home schooling, virtual schooling – creative greenfield approaches that have the potential to overcome the lack of change over the past 50 years and overcome the ‘tuition barrier’ by opening up more funds for parents in all income levels to pay for the best education for their children.

Over next few months CRI will feature some of these through profiles, You Tube video and print articles.

And, CRI needs your support – make your concerns known to your elected representatives. The focus must be on renewing the total school system and expanding the opportunity for all to share the benefits of a great education system.


James E. Hosley

Director, Center for Education Excellence



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By Shaun Fink

All across the fruited plain, state governments are scrambling around trying to scrounge their portion of the $1.35 billion expansion of the “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program funds that the Obama administration has added in its FY 2011 budget. This is in addition to the $4.35 billion for RTTT included in last year’s stimulus bill. Under the Department of Education’s (DOE) guidelines for RTTT, states must meet certain requirements to be eligible for a share of these competitive grants. And here is Delaware, the clamor can be heard everywhere.

“Race to the Top” is based on the theory that incentives and guidelines provided by the Department of Education in Washington can spur effective education reforms by state governments and school districts. Unfortunately the pains of the last attempt to do just that are still fresh in the psyche of the administrators, teachers and parents throughout Delaware’s nineteen school districts. “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) served to prove that strengthening federal control may result in a number of unintended consequences.

A central purpose of NCLB was to improve public school accountability through state testing and sanctions for low-performing schools. However, the end result was less effective than the goal. The entire program ultimately failed to improve any measure of accountability, rather mounting pressure from state education departments forced school administrators to insist on improving scores. In turn, those administrators laid the brunt of the responsibility on the shoulders of the teachers and left them with no option other than teaching to the test. This produced an environment that was far from conducive to learning and focused mainly on the results of those dastardly DSTP tests.

Perhaps, instead of rushing headlong into the newest incarnation of the government model of accountability in education, the governor and Secretary of Education should realize that there are several lessons to be learned from the NCLB experience and many reasons to be wary of the “Race to the Top” initiative.

First, the federal government has no jurisdiction or real authority to force states and school districts to comply with reforms. In reality, the struggle to implement real school reforms at the state and local level is a political one. For school reforms to work, the governor, legislators and DDOE officials must all embrace reform strategies and commit to seeing them through to the end. Federal incentives and punishments will have a limited ability to convince state and local politicians to take on the political challenge of education reform.

Second, school districts would likely water down or poorly implement the reforms championed by RTTT. Furthermore, elected officials would be pre-occupied with other issues and unwilling to force their hand. In fact, the most likely scenario is for all the hard work and promises made checking all those boxes on the application to go to waste in relation to actual educational reform.

Delaware will get the money, but will not advance charter schools nor fulfill the other requirements of RTTT. According to Andy Smarick of the Fordham Institute, this is a national concern since several states have already implemented reforms in response to the incentives of RTTT. But it remains to be seen whether legislative changes will lead to successful implementation. Andy notes that Tennessee lifted its charter school cap, and in response, Memphis and Nashville denied all 24 charter applications submitted.

Third, RTTT is aimed at strengthening federal power in setting K-12 education policies for states and school districts, and providing a path for national standards and tests. This is problematic on a number of levels. The federal government does not have constitutional authority to fund or regulate public education. While Washington became more involved in regulating and funding schools during the latter half of the 20th century, this role has historically been limited.

Forth, the RTTT competition is creating an incentive for Delaware to increase spending and develop new education programs at a time when the budget is face challenging deficits. The programs required by the initiative do not go away after the funding stops. This will place an even greater burden on future budget negotiations.

A better solution to Delaware’s educational challenge would provide for structural reforms of current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs to enable and encourage effective bottom-up reforms. One way to do this is granting states flexibility and control over the funds received from Washington. These federal funds are currently provided to states and school districts through dozens of formulas and competitive grant programs, many of which are ineffective or duplicative. They also impose significant administrative and compliance costs.

States should be granted greater autonomy over how federal funds are used to benefit student learning. This should include the power to terminate or consolidate programs and redirect funds to state initiatives with limited federal guidelines. Reformation of the Title I program, which aims to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, is essential so that the monies provided can follow students to a school of their parents’ choice.

Recall that school choice was to be one of the shining results of “No Child Left Behind”. Unfortunately, many school districts failed to comply with NCLB’s limited school choice options. “Race to the Top” is focused on charter schools; another admirable goal. Realistically, charter schools will no doubt meet the same fate here in Delaware as school choice. The Delaware State Education Association (DSEA), the state’s teachers’ union, has been trying from inception to slowing destroy the charter school movement in this state. It seems a little more than peculiar that they should now be embracing the idea. The promise of millions of dollars of federal tax dollars can have quite an effect on the affability of an organization. The proof, however, will be in the pudding.

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Shaun Fink is Executive Vice President of the Caesar Rodney Institute.

The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.

© Copyright March 1, 2010 by the Caesar Rodney Institute

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Yesterday’s release of the final requirements for federal Race to the Top funds is a positive step for education reform in the states. Coming a couple weeks after an informative and substantive education conference at the University of Delaware, it seems that Delaware could be in good standing to be awarded some of these funds.

One of the premises of Race to the Top, that funds will be allocated in a large enough amount to achieve a critical mass to affect real reform is a significant paradigm shift for federal funding to programs. Instead of spreading the wealth across the board so that everyone gets “their share,” Race to the Top funds will go to select states in amounts that should make a difference. It isn’t about making everyone happy – it is about generating enough resources to truly make a difference.

The final criteria for the funds will be determined through two phases. Per the Enterprise Blog’s Andrew Smarick,

In terms of timing and process, there will be two competitions, with awards given in the spring and fall of 2010. The few awards will reflect the winning states’ populations (for example, should Wyoming win, it will get far less than California).

What are the feds looking for? Among other criteria,

  • Professional development and training
  • Local district buy-in
  • Improved teacher and administrative evaluation
  • Data driven accountability and review processes
  • Support for choice and charter schools

As The News Journal has noted, “Delaware could receive up to $75 million to drive education reform if it’s selected as a recipient of the federal Race to the Top Fund.”

That is a key benefit of the program for Delaware. As a small state, a smaller chunk of the funds can get a lot more done in Delaware than in larger states. Delaware can affect real reform with $75 million unlike states such as California or New York or Texas where even $500 million would likely not be enough to make a true difference.

The criterion that states will be judged in part on their commitment to charter schools is nothing short of positive. Additionally, the criterion that covers using student performance measures in teacher evaluations is a welcomed piece of the competition’s requirements.


Education Week has a listing of all 30 of the criteria viewable here.


Education Week also gives a good synopsis of the crux of the program:

To win funding, states will have to do much more than lift their charter school caps, or remove data firewalls between student and teacher data, said Mr. Duncan, who pushed those two issues in recent months to get states ready for the competition, which he has described as America’s education “moonshot.”

Race to the Tops commitment to utilizing some form of performance based pay should be applauded. Though it has been noted by experts who are most familiar with the program that the final guidelines scaled back the importance of reforms promoting peformance-based pay.

In a nod to teachers’ union concerns, the final regulations make clear that student test scores should be just one component of a teacher- or principal-evaluation system. The regulations now require that such systems include multiple measures, including growth in student test scores.

In all, the revised guidelines appear to have stayed true to the programs intentions. There is no question that obtaining buy-in across the board from parents, teachers, administrations, unions and policymakers is of the utmost importance – as long as this buy-in does not result in the program being watered down to the point of ineffectiveness or lacking real reform. It looks like there is a legitimate commitment to the key reforms and that the program won’t become too vanilla to actually make a difference.

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