Commissioner Jones seeks support for state’s Race to the Top application

Dwight Jones, Colorado’s Commissioner of Education, is on a 14-city race himself right now, in order to seek support from local school districts for the state’s Race to the Top application.

The $4.3 billion competition, which has been billed as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s greatest tool for reform, will grant stimulus funds to states that develop comprehensive reform strategies in four areas:  standards and assessments, data systems, teacher hiring, firing and evaluation, and turning around struggling schools. Duncan has made it clear that the money will not be divided equally among the states.

Here’s where the contest gets hard:  the federal government has laid out very clearly what reforms it wants to see from states. It’s up to the states to convince their local school districts to sign on to the reform plans—which are likely to include controversial ideas like tracking teacher effectiveness through student test scores.

But Duncan has provided a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down:  districts who sign on to state plans will receive 50 percent of the federal government’s millions, should their state be chosen as a winner. Colorado Department of Education spokesman Mark Stevens confirmed that districts who don’t sign on to state reform plans are not eligible for the funds, per RTT guidelines.

According to Sterling’s Journal-Advocate, 85 of Colorado’s 178 districts have agreed to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top plan. Formal memorandums of understanding have not been signed, however, Stevens said. He explained that the MOUs can’t be written until the official guidelines for the contest are released by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Summit Daily reported that a district that signs on to the application must demonstrate the support of the superintendent, school board president and the president of the local teachers’ union.

As for what the state’s RTT application will look like, that is still a matter for the state’s work groups. But the Summit Daily had some hints:

The first draft includes several proposals such as “early warning indicator” data systems that help identify and intervene with at-risk students, online instructional offerings for struggling schools and student engagement to help determine educator effectiveness.

Jones plans to visit Salida and Colorado Springs this week.

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