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Rick Hess Straight Up

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By Rick Hess — March 03, 2010 3 min read
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One of the things about Race to the Top is the number of folks who have shared with me the wonders of state plans without having had much chance to read them. I can’t say I blame them, as perusing the apps feels a lot like searching a haystack for the proverbial needle. The apps feature hundreds of pages of edu-jargon, claims of dubious credibility, and thick appendices of uncertain utility. Those poor reviewers, tackling this chore with their frail rubrics and overdressed point system.

Complicating matters is that the Department of Education, by scanning in the various state apps as PDFs, has made it impossible to search for particular words or phrases. This requires any interested observer to hope the forty-one competing states (including Washington, DC) have posted their materials in more accessible ways and to track them down individually. My relentless research assistant Daniel Lautzenheiser has not been cheered by this state of affairs. All of this makes wading through the apps bloody difficult, and seems more than a little opaque given our earnest Secretary of Education’s claims of “maximum integrity and transparency.”

Anyway, a few more interesting nuggets pulled from the applications:

• Nine states--Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, and West Virginia--did not include their appendices online. Since the appendices are usually longer than the applications and can contain key supplemental material, including budgets (as well as touching poems), this makes it a bit hard for observers to make sense of their apps.
• In response to ED’s request that they document everything (while also suggesting that apps total no more than 350 pages), states padded their applications with letters of support, research papers, and long lists of curricula under the Common Core Standards. In fact, 22 different states include in their appendices at least 50 pages of reading, math, and science curricula under the Common Core Standards--even though it really shouldn’t matter, since all applicants have signed on to the standards. (Query: Since reviewers are only to give states credit for materials included in their app, will states that did this cut-and-paste score better when it comes to the 40 points for developing and adopting common standards?)
• In the Most Efficient Summary of Research category: Florida‘s app features a 61-page paper on “Gender and Racial Attainment Disparities in Science and Mathematics: A Review of the Literature” by the Female and Minority Initiative at Florida State University. Honorable Mention: New Jersey‘s Appendix A, which includes a 51-page report by the National Governor’s Association and others called “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education.”
• States have taken to a new level their “collaborative” partnerships with entities known to be popular at the Department of Education. Project Lead the Way is mentioned in 14 apps; the New Teacher Project in 18; and New Leaders for New Schools in 13. Mass Insight, which hasn’t actually yet done any, you know, turnarounds, is proudly touted by the six states who’ve agreed to partner with them on school turnarounds. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of all these ventures. But there’s sensible, opportunistic growth--and there’s force-fed government contracting.
• In the Most Facebook Friends category: Delaware‘s appendix includes 29 pages of letters of support; Louisiana‘s, 33 pages; Nebraska‘s, 49 pages. But New York is the big winner, with 156 pages of letters of support. Does that mean the Empire State will clean up on the 95 points for implementation and capacity?
Minnesota promises that every student will be ready for college by 2012. Since it’s already 2010, that really is going to be a race to the top. Especially since Minnesota reports that the percentage of 10th graders currently ready for college-level courses is just 43 percent in math and 29 percent in science. The app characterizes the goal as “ambitious” but “doable.”
• In a bit of grant-writing that brings to mind twenty-something consultants searching the web late at night to cobble a section together, Iowa and Michigan both cut and pasted verbatim a portion of this same phrase from PLTW’s website: “Partners with middle schools and high schools to provide a rigorous, relevant STEM education. Through an engaging, hands-on curriculum, PLTW encourages the development of problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creative and innovative reasoning, and a love of learning.”

If readers have a chance to poke around the apps, would welcome hearing what you find that’s particularly heartening or worrisome.

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The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.