Running the Race
Delaware scored a coup when it won millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top funding for education reform. So what’s the plan?
(page 3 of 3)
Donohue says she is “not sure that people are comfortable with the competitive nature of the grants,” but that everyone has agreed to work through the Race to the Top process. “The positive thing is that LEAs have time to work through the scope of their plans,” Donohue says.
DSEA members also appreciate being a part of defining what sufficient student growth means, because teacher performance will soon be evaluated in part by whether or not students are making adequate progress as judged by several measures, not one standardized test, Donohue says. She notes that teachers applaud greater access to professional development that is tied directly to classroom needs, as well as more time for collaborative planning.
The LEAs’ half of the money is apportioned according to a federal formula. The formula is based on the percentage of low-income students in the school district or charter school—provided the state approves their reform plans. If any district’s or charter school’s plan is not approved, the money that would have gone to them will be distributed to the remaining LEAs using the same federal formula.
Individual LEAs have considerable leeway in deciding how to spend their money in order to meet the state’s established reform priorities. LEA plans were to be posted on the state DOE Website sometime in August. Of the state’s 12 reform priorities, LEAs were asked to select four to six to concentrate on this year.
Indian River School District, for example, chose five: supporting development of new standards, building a culture of college and career readiness, implementing strategies to engage families and communities, adopting a model for professional development, and developing instructional leaders. Indian River got a jumpstart last summer by using federal stimulus monies to fund development of 50 teachers who will go out into the schools and pass that training to others. In the future, Race to the Top funds will be used for training.
“The state’s plan gives each of us the opportunity to customize what will work best for our own district,” says Indian River superintendent Susan Bunting. “This is a golden opportunity to extend education reform in Delaware.”
Among Brandywine School District’s plans is beefing up instruction in science, technology, engineering and math. Lowery also spoke approvingly of Caesar Rodney’s plans to begin instruction in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic languages. Learning such complex languages will encourage development of higher-order thinking skills and make students globally competitive, she says.
Markell and Lowery both say that the goal is for Delaware schools to be the highest ranked in the country by 2014.
“In the end, the only thing that really makes a difference is the achievement of the students,” Markell says. “There are the four main elements to the plan: high standards, data, teacher development and linkages of student achievement with teacher evaluation, and addressing low-performing schools. It is our judgment that when we do a good job on those four things, that’s going to lead to higher student achievement. The inputs are a whole lot less important than the outputs, and that’s going to be whether student achievement improves.”
Having the best schools in the country is a lofty goal, Markell says, but absolutely an attainable one.