Race to the Top: Voices From the States

Last month, state and local leaders from the 11 states and the District of Columbia receiving funds from Phases 1 and 2 of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top program met in Washington, D.C.  Participants explored teacher and leader effectiveness initiatives in the context of college- and career-ready standards.  They focused on how to:

    • better support teachers and principals as they work with their students to meet new, higher standards;
    • create reforms that are sustainable and improve over time; and
    • collaborate across agencies to meet Race to the Top goals.

Reflecting on more than a year’s experience with implementing the program, the officials agreed that their Race to the Top efforts sometimes have been challenging but are clearly worth it.  They see their reforms as a significant opportunity to better prepare students to succeed in college and careers.

“It’s the right work to do,” said Mitchell Chester, commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  “It’s clearly an ambitious agenda, and one that requires substantial effort and a willingness to rethink how we do school … but it is the right work to do.”

Watch “Race to the Top: Voices from the States:”


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Learn more about Race to the Top.

Investing Early: One of the Smartest Things We Can Do

Race to the Top-Early Learning Announcement

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

“This is an important moment in our effort to build a world-class education system in America,” Secretary Duncan said this morning at a White House event to announce the winners of the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). Duncan joined HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes in announcing the nine states that had won.

“Everyone who works in education can agree that investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do,” Duncan said. “Whether it’s elementary school teachers or prize-winning economists, they recognize that high-quality early learning programs pay dividends down the road.”

Thirty-five states, D.C. and Puerto Rico submitted plans for the Challenge, and today’s event announced the nine winners: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

White House Event

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

“We believe progress like this won’t be limited to the nine states awarded funds today,” Secretary Sebelius said. “By pushing everyone to raise their game, we intend to foster innovation in early childhood programs around the country. And I look forward to following their progress in the months and years ahead.”

The RTT-ELC will support these states in developing new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers and to close the school readiness gap. Awards will invest in grantees’ work to build statewide systems of high-quality early learning and development programs. These investments will impact all early learning programs, including Head Start, public pre-K, childcare, and private preschools.

Click here to read today’s press release, and visit ED’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge website.

Sign up to receive email updates from ED’s Early Learning Initiative.

Springfield, Ohio: ‘We Don’t Let Barriers Get in the Way’

Lincoln Elementary kindergartners enjoy story time with teacher David Wells. Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

While Springfield, Ohio schools cope with a growing number of poor families, an achievement gap and a declining population — similar to many other districts nationwide — the community is tackling those challenges head-on.

“We don’t let barriers get in the way of progress,” said Springfield City Schools Superintendent David Estrop.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch and I visited Springfield several weeks ago to learn firsthand how Springfield City Schools are working in innovative ways with the community to meet its challenges and to see how federal funding is supporting its progress.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Massie Ritsch reads the promise board at Lincoln Elementary.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Massie Ritsch reads 5th grade math students’ promises to strive towards high goals at Lincoln Elementary, following the school’s motto to “Be the Promise.” Photo courtesy of Springfield City Schools

Like many cities throughout the Midwest, Springfield has lost manufacturing jobs over the past few decades.  Although NCLB data show a significant achievement gap between Springfield’s children from low-income families—76 percent of its students—educators, parents, elected officials, and students, as well as members of the business and higher education communities, have devoted time and resources to identify problems and build solutions. It’s that arduous effort that seems to have generated real improvement in students’ year-to-year achievement growth, despite the district’s designation under NCLB as not meeting adequate yearly progress.

ED funding plays an important role in several ways:

Keifer Academy is an alternative school for K-12th- graders that was once among the lowest-achieving in the state. The school — which serves Springfield students who are not progressing in traditional environments — has undergone a transformation with help from a $1.65 million federal School Improvement Grant. The grant has enabled Keifer to bring in a new principal, add new staff for more customized support, develop new programs through community partnerships, and increase teacher training.  Early results are promising: the percentage of Keifer 10th graders who are proficient in reading jumped from 23 percent in 2010 to more than 41 percent in 2011.

Awarded a special $718,000 Innovation grant from Ohio’s Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, Springfield is developing a Family Academy that will provide learning opportunities for students and parents, as well as meals, childcare and transportation on weekday evenings. For children, activities will include enrichment projects, tutoring and college readiness courses. Adults will have learning options like GED programs and Clark State Community College classes, as well as social activities such as line-dancing.

Through the district-wide Race to the Top Transformation Team — funded with $160,000 of Springfield’s RTTT allocation from Ohio – a committee of district teachers and administrators work together to analyze student performance issues and make changes to improve.  We had the opportunity to join the team’s discussion of the best practices of the district’s most successful teachers.  Subcommittees reported on the schools they’d visited and identified common threads like “teacher collaboration” to develop improvement strategies throughout the district.

Even though the district applied for, but did not receive, a Promise Neighborhood grant from ED, the district has gone ahead on its own to develop the Lincoln Promise Neighborhood initiative. The effort aims to improve Lincoln Elementary, which serves the district’s poorest students and has posted low achievement scores, while simultaneously addressing the needs of its neighborhood. Through this endeavor — supported by private foundations and some RTTT funds — the school has established new mentoring and tutoring partnerships, after school programs and a summer camp.

Most striking, though, is the philosophy to “Be the Promise” that’s reflected in Lincoln’s staff and students.  Fifth-grade teacher Steven Holliday embodies this emerging culture.

Recently hired from a district where 98 percent of his students were proficient in math, Holliday tackled his new charges’ proficiency levels – just 22 percent last year – with determination.  He inspired his students to ask themselves: “Who are you? 22 percent or 90 percent?” The walls of his classroom are lined with student-written promises to achieve the higher goal, and “77 percent posted proficient scores on a recent assessment,” he told us.

Over the past two years, the seeds for many of the district’s innovative programs – such as the Family Academy – were planted through the collaborative community engagement initiative. The consensus-building process can be painstakingly slow, but Estrop believes community-developed plans will have more long-term value than any quick “magical solution.”

“It’s hard work,” he said, “but we’re building community through the investment in our kids.”

Julie Ewart, Office of Communications and Outreach, Great Lakes Region

Education Will Open Doors, Duncan Tells Cleveland Students

Official Department of Education Photo by Leslie Williams

Nearly 1000 people filed into the East Tech High School auditorium in Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon for the third stop, and the largest crowd yet, on the “Education and the Economy” bus tour.

But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a personal message for a small group of them. He asked the students in the audience to stand. Several rows of young, mostly African-American men wearing black sweater vests, white dress shirts, ties and khakis seated in the front rows stood, to applause from the crowd. 

Duncan spoke directly to them.

“When I was in high school on the south side of Chicago, my friends could drop out of high school and go to work in the stock yards and steel mills, get a job and take care of a family.  That’s gone now.”


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

He went on to implore everyone attending to find a role in improving Cleveland’s education system and to reject complacency.

“If you do that, doors will open for you, if not – it’s going to be tough.  Cleveland has made real progress, but your goal should be to be the best urban school system in the country four or five years from now.  Cleveland has had some great successes, but now is not the time to rest on your laurels.”

The event “Connecting Cleveland’s Communities and Classrooms,” featured a panel discussion and audience Q&A with Duncan and national and local leaders in community service.  Participants included Joshua DuBois, executive director of The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Acting CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service Robert Velasco II; Reverend Tracy Lind; Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon, and Nikki Gentile, a 3rd grade teacher from Marion-Sterling school.

But the conversation began before Secretary Duncan’s bus rolled onto East Tech’s campus. The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships held a forum for leaders of Cleveland community-based organizations. Representatives of the federal Departments of Labor, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service, offered information about federal programs that support local communities.

Representatives of nonprofit groups talked about how they are putting that funding to work in the Cleveland area. Outside in the main hallway of East Tech, government agencies and community groups showcased their programs and provided information to the guests.
 
Once the main event kicked off, Secretary Duncan said the goal was simple: “Connecting Cleveland’s communities and classrooms – what’s working, and what can be done to improve?”  And, he noted, “Any time you have an auditorium full of people talking about education, that’s a good thing.”

The panel discussed topics and audience questions ranged widely; how to increase meaningful parental engagement; how Cleveland has increased graduation rates; what the appropriate role for charter schools is; and from a student in the audience who said he was in foster care and wanted to know, “What will happen in three years when Race to the Top money runs out?  Are students like me going to be left on our own with no help from the system?”

Secretary Duncan was optimistic.  “Race to the Top has catalyzed huge amount of change in this system,” he said.  “Forty-four states have signed on to common core academic standards.  For the first time in Ohio, children are being held to a much higher standard.  When the (Race to the Top) money goes away – I don’t think that goes away.  My hope is that we’ve taken our country in a new direction and will continue to improve.”

Read more about City Year corps members who participated in the East Tech High event.

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge Application Released

“Successful early learning programs are not just about education but about the whole child – including their physical and emotional health,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a conference call this afternoon with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce the Obama Administration’s release of the final application for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC).

The two Departments have worked together over the last four months in an unprecedented effort.  Nearly 350 organizations and individuals provided comments to the draft criteria put out in early July.

RTT-ELC will provide $500 million in state-level competitive grants to improve early learning and development programs with States getting about $50 to $100 million. The goal of the Challenge is to ensure more children with high-needs from birth to age five—including those from low-income families—enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

“Brain scientists tell us that the early years are when critical cognitive development takes place. Social scientists tell us that the investments we make in early childhood programs can have a huge payoff down the road,” said Secretary Sebelius.

States chosen for the RTT-ELC will need to demonstrate a commitment to improving their early learning and development programs as well as adopt common standards within the State that will help determine what young children should know and be able to do, as well as define program quality.

States awarded funds under RTT-ELC will also implement appropriate assessments to help monitor students’ progress to inform practice and improve program quality. Secretary Duncan explained that “we are not asking three year olds to take bubble tests.” Just as good early childhood educators are doing now, we are asking that early childhood educators have the observation and documentation skills they need to evaluate a child’s progress along a set of appropriate early learning and development standards.

Read the press release of today’s announcement, and click here to learn more about the RTT-ELC and to view the application.

Arne Joins Senator Harkin in Iowa to Highlight Early Learning

Secretary Duncan joins Senator Harkin for a roundtable discussion with Iowa educators and community leaders (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

“I don’t even use the word ‘preschool’ any longer, because I think education starts at birth,” explained Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) yesterday at an early childhood education event in Des Moines, Iowa. Harkin, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, joined Secretary Duncan at Carver Community School to highlight the importance of early learning as an investment in the future well-being of America’s students.

Senator Tom Harkin at Carver Community School (Official Department of Education Photo by Paul Wood)

Duncan and Harkin joined education and community leaders from across Iowa in a roundtable discussion on the importance of quality early learning programs, focusing on how these programs have benefited both rural and urban communities.

Secretary Duncan highlighted the administration’s recent announcement that it will invest $500 million in a state-level Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. The Challenge will reward states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems that include better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development and family engagement initiatives.

While in Iowa, Secretary Duncan also delivered the keynote address at the Iowa Education Summit where he offered his assessment of Iowa’s progress in strengthening its education system.

For more information on ED’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, click here.

 

School’s On for Summer: States Engage Teachers in Race to the Top

Just as the Department of Education has been connecting to the public for feedback on its new round of Race to the Top (RTT) projects, such as new student assessments, states have, for their part, been reaching out to teachers and principals to obtain valuable input and provide training to support Race to the Top reforms. This summer, states from Hawaii to New York are using Race to the Top funds to support professional development and outreach to teachers, who are essential to successful implementation of RTT’s reforms.

As an Education Week article reported this week, in Maryland, Race to the Top funds are being used to support “the largest professional development program for teachers ever held in the state,” bringing together representatives from every school in Maryland, with the aim that staff in attendance “take a lead role in building understanding among their colleagues back home.” These professional development opportunities double as listening sessions, where state officials solicit teachers’ input on curriculum and testing standards. Teachers say they hope the training will help them understand and implement new standards to ultimately create more consistency across schools, districts states and the nation.

Maryland is just one of several RTT winners working to engage teachers (and welcoming observers from other states to learn from their efforts). Across the nation, summer outreach will focus on the college- and career-ready standards known as the Common Core, which states have developed together, as well as new teacher and administrator evaluations and initiatives to turn around low-performing schools. Some highlights include:

  • Georgia will host a summer leadership program for school turnaround teams and facilitate consultation sessions on the state’s teacher evaluation system.
  • New York will convene some 1,000 participants for intensive professional development on the Common Core Standards, the state’s teacher evaluation system and using assessments to target instructional efforts.
  • Ohio will host professional development sessions on new teacher and principal evaluation systems, Common Core and the instructional improvement system.

Race to the Top states and their educators will be hard at work all summer long to ensure that key players in the classroom have a role in shaping and implementing the program that Secretary Duncan has credited with “fundamentally redefining the education landscape in America.” So much for summer break!

Andrea Suarez Falken is a Special Assistant at the Department of Education.

Public Gives Input on Race to the Top Assessments

According to Secretary Duncan, the new Race to the Top Assessments (RTTA) are “an absolute game-changer in public education.” Which is why ED is taking the necessary steps to ensure that stakeholders have a voice in the development of the assessments.

At a public forum on June 10 in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, about 70 educators and stakeholders from across the country had a chance to hear about the new assessment systems currently under development, listen to experts, and voice their ideas. The public forum was the second in a series of meetings ED is holding to gain input from the public on the new assessments being developed by the state-led consortia and how to best develop them in order to improve students’ readiness for college and careers.

“It’s integral that we not only measure results, but how students get there” said Douglas Stein, vice president of the Educational Records Bureau, during the feedback portion of the meeting.

Kent Williamson, executive director of the National Council of Teachers of English said that there “is a confidence problem among educators about testing. This process needs to start including teachers – not just in field testing, but in conceptual design.”

Max McGee, president of the Illinois Math and Science Academy noted that we can learn from the successful models of other countries: “Our international competitors have successfully addressed many of the concerns we have with testing. There are models out there.”

The new tests will be aligned with the Common Core Standards, which the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers created, and have been adopted by 43 states. The standards are designed to prepare students for success in college and careers. A total of 45 states plus the District of Columbia are participating in the two assessment consortia: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These consortia were awarded $360 million in RTTA grants. The assessments are expected to be rolled out by states in the 2014-15 school year.

Ann Whalen, Director of in Policy and Program Implementation in ED’s Implementation and Support Unit, and Patrick Rooney, team lead for the RTTA program, led the meeting, which was funded in part by a grant from Hewlett. Representatives from PARCC, SBAC, and other experts participated in a panel discussion about automated scoring in the assessments.

The transcript and other forum materials will be posted on the RTTA page, along with information from previous sessions and registration details for future forums. The next public RTTA meeting takes place in Washington, DC on Aug. 10, and will focus on assessing students with disabilities and English language learners.

Tune In to the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge TV Special

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Three weeks ago President Obama traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class of Booker T. Washington High School, the winner of this year’s Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.  Booker T. Washington High School beat out over 400 high schools from across the country with their efforts to prepare students for college and career and help meet the President’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

In a new television special premiering this week, viewers will have the chance to follow the experiences of students at Booker T. Washington High School, as they win this year’s competition and the opportunity to host President Obama as their commencement speaker.  The Race to the Top Commencement Challenge Special, produced by Viacom and the Get Schooled Foundation in partnership with the White House, will air on Viacom’s cable networks over the next week. Get a sneak peak in an interview later today on BET’s 106 & Park with Christopher Dean and Cassandra Henderson, the two seniors profiled in the special.

In the meantime, check out this behind-the-scenes video of President Obama surprising students at Booker T. Washington right before the commencement ceremony.

Lauren Paige is Director of Message Planning at the White House

A Major Investment in Helping Students Get Off on the Right Foot

“Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do as a nation,” said Secretary Arne Duncan earlier this morning at a town hall meeting with US Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce a new $500 million state-level Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. Secretary Sebelius explained that “the only way America can out-compete the rest of the world is if we out-educate the rest of the world … And the only way we can do that is if every child gets a healthy start and a rich early learning experience.”

The Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge rewards states that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination and assessment mechanisms, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development and family engagement initiatives.

Providing a strong educational foundation for our nation’s children doesn’t start on the first day of kindergarten. Research makes it clear that excellent early learning programs result in short- and long-term positive outcomes, including better high school graduation rates, higher college enrollment, and improved completion rates. Yet only 40 percent of 4-year olds are enrolled in preschool programs.

The Obama administration has been committed to improving the quality of early learning programs since day one, and the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge continues that commitment by moving the field and supporting breakthrough work that will change the quality of early learning programs across America.

Vice President Biden also noted that these programs help not only kids but whole families. “Expanding access to such early education and child care programs will also make it easier for working parents to hold down a job – a key priority of the Middle Class Task Force – giving them peace of mind that their children are in a high quality learning environment while they are at work.”

As part of this Challenge, we are inviting you to provide ideas, comments and suggestion. Please visit our Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge page and join the conversation.

Watch the entire town hall, and listen to a conference call that ED staff held with stakeholders following the announcement.

Watch Live: Duncan and Sebelius Make Major Announcement About Race to the Top and Early Learning

Join Secretary Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at 10 a.m. ET today for a town hall meeting where the secretaries will make a major announcement about Race to the Top and early learning.

Duncan and Sebelius will be joined by George Kaiser, Founder of The George Kaiser Family Foundation as well as Chairman of BOK Financial Corp. and GBK Corporation; Brigadier General (Ret.) Clara L. Adams-Ender; Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams; and Ralph Smith, Executive Vice President, Annie E Casey Foundation.

In addition to the major announcement, Duncan and Sebelius will discuss Race to the Top and early learning initiatives and the importance of their collaboration on early learning to improve the health, social, emotional and educational outcomes for young children from birth to age 5. The other guest speakers will discuss the importance of early childhood investment in building strong and safe communities, developing leaders who can strengthen our national security and developing an educated workforce we need to win the future.

Click here to watch the archived version of the town hall, and click here for more information on today’s announcement.