December 28, 2011

States Hit Turbulence in School Overhauls

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.

The U.S. Department of Education warned last week that Hawaii, which won $75 million in Race to the Top funding, is so far off track that the state could lose its money if it doesn't start making good on its pledges. It was the first state to receive such a stern warning, though federal officials have threatened in the past year to withhold smaller amounts from Rhode Island and Delaware.

Change of Plans

States haven't delivered on all their Race to the Top promises. Among the modifications:

Hawaii: Pushed back by one year plans to link teacher evaluations to student test-score gains
Delaware: Scaled back and delayed plans to hire "data coaches" who would help teachers understand student assessments
Maryland: Postponed by a year rollout of new teacher-evaluation system
Georgia: Scaled-back plans to help transition kindergarten students to first grade in low-achieving schools

"If things don't change, Hawaii is going to end up in a tough spot," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during a press call Thursday. Hawaii education officials say they are making progress but acknowledge they have hit stumbling blocks to following through with the state's promises.

Race to the Top, President Barack Obama's signature education initiative, offered $4.3 billion to states that promised to transform their education systems. Competition for the grants prompted dozens of states to change laws governing teacher evaluations, adopt new academic standards, alter their approach to fixing low-performing schools and support the growth of charter schools, which are public schools run by nongovernment groups.  (Read the complete article in the Wall Street Journal)


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