Is the Race to the Top A Race to the Bottom?
Race to the Top funding has helped create some success stories in Delaware's public school system. But this race has also presented its share of hurdles, including a morale problem among the state's teachers. Now the one-time cash infusion is running out.
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In order to achieve these goals, the state embarked upon an ambitious effort that touches many aspects of the educational system, from improving existing data systems to hiring coaches to help teachers use student data in the classroom, and using coaches to help students stay on their graduation track. The plan focuses on early childhood learning, improving poorly performing schools, increasing curriculum standards, increasing professional development for teachers, and better preparing students for college and careers.
The grand idea is that the Race to the Top grant would inspire change that would eventually be institutionalized in the state’s public education system.
Folks like Herdman, who have studied reforms of the past in Delaware and elsewhere, say it’s important to keep things in context. After all, Delaware’s public education system has been under some kind of reform for more than 50 years.
“This rapid cycle of introducing new ideas and then rejecting them is natural and has been repeated many times to no effect,” Herdman says. “So, if we want to see lasting change for our kids, we should look at the few states, like Massachusetts, that are internationally competitive and realize that they developed solid strategies and stuck with them over time.”
Race to Results
The state and districts have had their share of success stories. And Mark Murphy, Delaware’s secretary of education, reports that DOE continues to get a green light from the U.S. Department of Education.
“We are on track to meet the targets that we set in Race to the Top,” says Murphy, who signed on as secretary in 2012, about halfway through the Race, when Lillian Lowery left for the top post in Maryland. “We are on track with the vast majority of those goals.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s annual report on Delaware, released in February and posted on the Race to the Top website, reflects that while the state hit some snags, the feds were generally pleased with Delaware’s progress. But that report, the most recent available, is from the second year of Race to the Top, the 2011-12 school year.