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Report Card: Louisiana, Pennsylvania Stumble in Race to Top Round 3

By Michele McNeil — June 07, 2013 4 min read
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It’s easy to forget about the Race to the Top “bridesmaids.” They’re the seven states that just missed winning awards in the $4 billion contest in 2010 and ended up with consolation prizes a year later worth a fraction of what they had hoped for.

Regardless, those seven states collectively are spending $200 million to implement a small piece of their plans. And now, the U.S. Department of Education is publicizing how these states are doing in making good on their promises.

The bottom line, according to the department: Louisiana and Pennsylvania struggled the most in the first year of the grant. And Pennsylvania seems to be in the worst shape.

Louisiana, which won $18 million, struggled with overall implementation of its plan, which focuses on improving teacher and principal effectiveness, expanding charter schools, and increasing the number of schools using “best practice” intervention strategies, according to the report. The federal report attributed many of the problems to the transition to new state leadership and alignment problems with the rest of the state’s other education policies. (Note that the report doesn’t have any issue whatsoever with schools’ chief John White, but in the transition time before he took the job.) The state “is challenged with fully implementing a continuous improvement process,” the department’s report says.

White, in an interview tonight, took issue with the department’s characterization of his state’s progress. He said that any problems were isolated to “bureaucratic check boxes” about timelines, and not the real, challenging work of implementing game-changing policies, such as better teacher evaluations. In those areas, such as improving standards, teacher effectiveness, and data systems, the state is making rapid, dramatic changes, White said, and without a large grant the other original Race to the Top states got.

Pennsylvania won $41.3 million to improve the quality of math and science programs, create an educator dashboard with real-time access to student data, support the growth of charter schools, and implement new teacher- and principal-evaluation systems. But the state has encountered many delays (the report describes some as “significant” ones) and has struggled with staff capacity to implement its ideas. “These delays have led to concerns about Pennsylvania’s ability to execute against all elements of its Race to the Top plan in a high-quality and timely manner,” the report said.

Department officials, in a press call, said Louisiana “has gotten” back on the right trajectory, while Pennsylvania “is getting” back on track. (This seems like an important distinction.)

Here’s how the other states fared in their first year as they worked to spend their grants, which ranged from $17 million to $43 million, according to the first-year progress reports:

Arizona—The state is focusing on the transition to common-core standards. In the first year, the state started using regional-education centers and putting the organizational structures in place to make the transition to the common standards. But, the state struggled in creating the processes to gather data on the availability and quality of common-standards resources, and the effectiveness of the regional education centers.

Colorado—The state is focusing on the transition to common core, educator effectiveness, and improving STEM programs. Its accomplishments include developing new teacher- and principal-evaluation rubrics and providing training in 27 pilot districts. The state also deployed new curriculum frameworks linked to the common core. As far as challenges, the state is struggling to use data to proactively help districts and to assess a new “student learning standard” in the evaluations.

Illinois—The state is focusing on the common-core transition, using data to inform instruction, improving STEM programs, and using a new evaluation system tied to student growth. In its first year, the state created a new committee to finalize the new evaluation system, and established a “pathways resource center” to support college and career readiness. But the state struggled with staffing and contracting.

Kentucky—The state is using its grant to fully implement its continuous instruction improvement technology system. In the first year, the state made progress in training teachers and administrators on the system, and field testing it in 54 districts. It struggled, however, with getting the data it needed to set student achievement targets.

New Jersey—The state is working on the transition to common standards and assessments, expanding charter schools, using data to improve teaching, and improving teacher and principal effectiveness. New Jersey has perhaps the lengthiest list of accomplishments, including recruiting 300 volunteer educators to write and review model curricula, student learning objectives and formative assessments aligned to the common core, and piloting its new teacher-evaluation system. The state struggled to hire, and retain, key Race to the Top personnel.

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