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Why Delaware and Tennessee Won Race to the Top

By Michele McNeil — March 29, 2010 2 min read
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In two words: stakeholder support.

Both states had strong plans and significant buy-in from local school districts and teachers’ unions. Other reasons the two states won, according to the Education Department:

• Unanimous participation, broad collaboration: 100% of the state’s districts and teachers signed on; 100% of the state’s students will benefit; stakeholders include governor, state education department, local districts (LEAs), unions, business community
• New state law on teacher/principal effectiveness: no educators can be rated as “effective” unless their students demonstrate satisfactory levels of growth; teachers rated as “ineffective” for two to three years can be removed from the classroom, even if they have tenure
• Financial incentives help to more equitably distribute effective talent: teacher and principals can earn transfer bonuses and up to $10,000 per year for teaching in high-need schools and subjects
• Turnarounds, or “time-limited escalation” strategy: allows an identified school to locally bargain for implementation of turnaround or transformation model; if unsuccessful, the state implements restart or closure model; school must show improvement within two years

• Broad participation and collaboration: 100% of the state’s districts signed on; 93% of the local teachers’ unions signed on; 100% of the state’s students will benefit; stakeholders include governor, state education department, state legislature, LEAs, unions, business, and philanthropic communities
• New state law, First to the Top Act of 2010, creates foundation for education reform: allows meaningful use of value-added data for teacher and principal evaluations and state intervention in persistently lowest-achieving schools
• Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS): build on data that’s been collected since 1992 and now can be used for evaluations; state can move from the “highly qualified teacher” paradigm to an “effective teachers and leaders” model immediately; data will be accessible on-demand to all teachers and principals this year, and used (by law) as a significant part of evaluations by school year 2011-12
• Strong turnaround plan: escalating series of interventions for low-achieving schools, culminating in moving the persistently lowest-achieving schools from their home LEAs into the Achievement School District, run by the state education department
• Strong data, research, and evaluation infrastructure and culture: Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation and Development will study Tennessee’s Race to the Top activities, inform mid-course corrections, and provide valuable lessons for the state and the nation