9 states, D.C. receive 'Race to the Top' education funds
The U.S. Education Department said Tuesday that nine states and the District of Columbia will get money to reform schools in the second round of the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition.
Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., will receive grants, department spokesman Justin Hamilton said. The amounts for each state were expected to be announced later.
The aim of the historic program is to reward ambitious changes to improve schools and close the achievement gap. The competition instigated a wave of reforms across the country, as states passed new teacher accountability policies and lifted caps on charter schools to boost their chances of winning.
Tennessee and Delaware were named winners in the first round of the competition in March, sharing $600 million. The applicants named winners Tuesday will share a remaining $3.4 billion. Another $350 million is coming in a separate competition for states creating new academic assessments.
The historic program, part of President Obama's economic stimulus plan, rewards states for embarking on ambitious reforms to improve struggling schools, close the achievement gap and boost graduation rates.
"New York's schools have made strong strides toward excellence and this grant will accelerate that progress," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan on New York's proposal. "This is great news for parents, teachers, and taxpayers across the state."
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round of the competition. The Education Department named 19 applicants finalists in July.
More than a dozen states vying for the money changed laws to foster the growth of charter schools, and at least 17 reformed teacher evaluation systems to include student achievement. Dozens also adopted Common Core State Standards, the uniform math and reading benchmarks developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
"The change unleashed by conditioning federal funding on bold and forward-looking state education policies is indisputable," the Democrats for Education Reform said in a statement. "Under the president's leadership, local civil rights, child advocacy, business and education reform groups, in collaboration with those state and local teacher unions ready for change, sprung into action to achieve things that they had been waiting and wanting to do for years."
In a speech announcing the finalists last month, Duncan called the change a "quiet revolution."
Between both rounds of the competition, a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia applied.
While the program has been praised for instigating swift reforms, the competition for many states was an uphill battle, with teacher unions hesitant to sign on to reforms directly tying teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests, and education leaders concerned winning meant giving up too much local control.
A number of states that did not win the competition said they still planned to proceed with the reforms they had proposed, though they acknowledged change would take place at a slower pace.
Source: USA TODAY
Kids Face Differing Realities In New Orleans Schools
For many children of New Orleans, their world was turned upside down five years ago when Katrina swept through the city.
Many had to leave home, and were shunted from one house and one school to another. Those who returned to the city found a school system that was in complete upheaval — and is still undergoing major changes today.
Donnell Bailey lives in a cozy little row house on St. Ann Street in New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood. It is a world of doting women, from his grandmother to his aunt to his mother, Tracy, who is quick to give visitors a tour of the family photos that cover the coffee table.
The air conditioner battles the afternoon heat as Donnell sits down and tells me what happened in August 2005. He was 10 years old then, on a fast track to failure, like many kids in the city's corrupt, low-scoring school system. He was held back after failing a fourth-grade achievement test. Donnell admits he wasn't trying, but neither was the neighborhood school.
"I don't think I ever heard the word 'college' at that school," he says. "I'm being honest!"
All that changed after the storm. Donnell left the city with relatives before Katrina arrived and spent the rest of that school year in Houston. Just by chance, he ended up at a school set up in Houston by a national charter organization known as KIPP.
"When I first went to KIPP in the fifth grade in Houston, the first thing I learned was that I'm going to college in 2013," he says.
At first, Donnell struggled with the school's stern discipline, with the emphasis on achievement. He wrote a lot of apologies for his behavior. He'd act out, apologize, and then do it again. But for some reason, Donnell got himself out of this pattern. He bonded with his teachers and started to get some traction.
A year after Katrina, Donnell's family returned to New Orleans, and he ended up at McDonogh 15, a KIPP-run school in the French Quarter.
Teacher Nicole Cummins remembers that when she first met Donnell, he was pretty funny — often too funny.
"He didn't quite have a harness on what is appropriate for the classroom," she says.
Donnell grins each time Cummins mentions his sense of humor. The air crackles with his bright, confident laugh.
Donnell realized that his impish sense of humor and his love of wordplay could get him attention without getting him in trouble. The misfit became a star. Donnell was elected class president, the same year that Barack Obama was elected to the White House.
"I just have to say he did take my spot as the country's first African-American president," Donnell wisecracks.
I suggest he could still be the first president from New Orleans, but that's not enough — Donnell says he plans to be "the nation's first fully black president."
"Obama is half-and-half," he says. "I'm the total package."
Donnell might have succeeded even without Katrina. But it's hard to imagine. The storm led to the takeover of nearly all the city's schools, and it sparked a rush by charter school operators like KIPP.
They brought waves of idealistic young educators like Cummins, who opened new doors to kids like Donnell. But for many other families, Katrina and the new education landscape added new frustrations to old ones.
Ronald McCoy has raised his grandson John Baumbach since John was a baby. Now, John is 14 and attends Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans. But McCoy is unhappy with the overall education system in New Orleans, including the school his grandson attends.
On the other side of town, Ronald McCoy and his wife, Eniel, are trying to get ink out their grandson's school uniform. She lays his pants on the kitchen counter and scrubs hard with a stain remover.
"He loves to work me," she says, with a mixture of frustration and affection. She and her husband know they will have to replace those pants if they can't get them clean. Kids must wear khakis at the school their grandson, John Baumbach, attends.
John is sitting at the dining room table. He has lived with his grandparents since he was a baby. The family says he has attention deficit disorder. John admits he has a hard time paying attention in school.
"It's just that sometimes I need extra help," John says. "Sometimes it's hard for me to get it. And sometimes I get off-track a lot, because I start tapping. 'Cause I can't stay in one spot, 'cause I start fidgeting."
John talks in a rapid-fire stream, and sure enough he fidgets the entire conversation.
John, 14, is a pretty child, slight with fine features, his hair in neat cornrows. On the wall of the family home, there's a huge portrait of Giani, John's uncle and Ronald's son. Giani was a football star, and the pride and joy of the family. He was shot to death in 2007, a victim of the city's high murder rate.
Ronald McCoy grimaces as he remembers the night he heard the news.
"And it wasn't intended for him," he says. "They was shooting at someone else, and the bullet struck him." He points to another picture: "That's his daughter ... that's the little girl he left behind."
The loss of the uncle he idolized is just one of the challenges John faces. Before the storm, he had behavior problems at the neighborhood school he attended. John evacuated to Morgan City, La., just before the storm, and says he liked his school there.
But when the family returned to New Orleans a year later, Ronald McCoy says John's old neighborhood school was suddenly full of security guards and metal detectors.
"And you go in other neighborhoods besides urban neighborhoods, and you don't go through this," McCoy insists.
This is a common complaint — that the post-Katrina school system has relied too heavily on security guards and harsh discipline in the relentless quest to boost test scores.
The new school system is supposed to give parents choice — a menu of charters, magnet schools and traditional public schools.
But Ronald McCoy says that everywhere they turn, his grandson John's issues are neglected. A KIPP charter school, like the one Donnell Bailey attended, recruited them. But they say John never got the individual attention they were promised.
John Baumbach, 14, waits on his front porch until it's time to go to football practice. John's grandparents say the school system has ignored his special education needs, a complaint made by many parents.
Other parents complain that New Orleans schools have ignored special education issues like John's — that led to a recent legal complaint by a civil rights group.
Samuel J. Green Charter is John's third school since Katrina. As he begins eighth grade, his future is uncertain.
John takes us into the hall of the school to show us its latest addition: The halls have narrow lines of tape along each side of the hallway. Kids must stay on the tape, even if it doubles the distance to the next classroom.
Ronald McCoy, who inspects schools for an activist group, shakes his head. "This walking the line?" he says. "I have been incarcerated, and that's where I learned about walking behind those lines and staying on the right-hand side of the wall."
Donnell Bailey is just beginning his second year of high school. He's attending a private school in the suburbs.
Thanks to a strong recommendation from the KIPP school, he got into Metairie Park Country Day School, which helps to cover his tuition costs. He stands in line in the school's beautiful gymnasium, waiting to be issued a locker.
He's clearly comfortable here, chatting with friends, looking forward to his new role: Even though he's brand new to this mostly white private school, he was elected class president.
For Donnell, the post-Katrina reality is very cool, a brand new chapter in a young life. For many other children, it's the same old story.
What's missing for back-to-school? 135,000 teachers
More children are crowding into classrooms in Modesto, Calif. Parents are paying extra to send their kids to full-day kindergarten in Queen Creek, Ariz. And the school buses stopped rolling in one St. Louis area school district.
These are but a few of the unwelcome changes greeting children as they start the school year. Tight fiscal times are forcing school districts to lay off teachers, enlarge class sizes, cut programs and charge for services that were once free.
"School districts are going to be stripped down from what there were a few years ago," said Jack Jennings, head of the Center on Education Policy, an advocacy group. "They are really feeling the economic squeeze."
The national economic downturn has sucked state coffers dry, forcing cuts to school districts and municipalities. The Obama administration's stimulus package softened the impact, but many districts still found themselves having to downsize.
"Every student is being affected in some way or another," said Dan Domenech, executive director of the America Association of School Administrators.
Teachers are experiencing the brunt of the budget cuts this year, even though Congress last week gave states an additional $10 billion to keep an estimated 140,000 educators and support staff employed.
Still, the number of teachers who won't have a job this school year could be as high as 135,000, experts said.
While grateful for the federal funds, school officials are not sure they will be able to use it to bring back many teachers this year. Many states have yet to say how they will distribute the money and many districts have already started or set up their class schedules.
Some plan to use it to hire tutors, counselors and non-core classroom educators such as art and music teachers. But others say they may hold onto the money until the next school year, when the last of the stimulus money is set to disappear.
"We're all looking ahead over the next couple of years and not seeing any respite," said Chris Nicastro, Missouri's commissioner of education.
The great wave of layoffs means students will have to share their classrooms -- and their teachers' attention -- with more of their peers.
In California, for instance, state education officials have approved 23 requests from local districts to increase their average class sizes beyond the maximum allowed. At least 33 more are scheduled to be reviewed in coming months.
This is quite a change from the previous decade, when the state received no requests.
"It's rising exponentially," said Judy Pinegar, manager of the waiver office at the California Department of Education.
Facing a $25 million budget gap for this year, Modesto City Schools district officials decided to raise the average class size in kindergarten through third grade to 25 kids, up from 20.
The school district was initially looking to lay off one-third of its teachers, or 500 people. But after educators agreed to give up their raises and some retired, only 50 teachers were not rehired for this school year.
Still, the larger class sizes will have an impact, said Megan Gowans, executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association.
"Students are going to feel that they are getting less one-on-one attention," she said.
Neighboring Sylvan Union School District now has elementary school classes with up to 34 students in them. That's 12 more than the average size last year. The elementary schools now only have one librarian and no dedicated art teachers, when there used to be four of each. In all, there are 19 fewer educators on staff, said Superintendent John Halverson.
The district has gone so far to combine several grades, teaching kindergarten and first graders and first and second graders together for the first time in recent memory.
These moves allow school officials to keep some classrooms dark, helping close a $5 million gap in its $60 million budget. But the changes won't go unnoticed.
"I can't say it won't have an impact because I think it will," said Halverson, who has been in the California school system for 33 years.
Elsewhere in the nation, school districts have cut back on programs and services or are charging for them.
Take Queen Creek, a small town 38 miles southeast of Phoenix. When the state cut funding for full-day kindergarten programs, Queen Creek took a $900,000 hit, but decided to continue offering it...at a price. Parents have to pay $200 a month to enroll their 5-year-olds.
"Our community was used to having it," said Shari Zara, the district's chief financial officer. "We thought we'd still offer it for those who could pay."
Some 122 kids signed up for the extended program, while another 216 are in the free half-day class. Charging tuition spared the district from having to cut teachers or programs, Zara said.
Busing is another area that has taken a hit in scores of districts.
In the Bayless school district in the St. Louis area, for example, the board and administrators decided to eliminate bus service instead of laying off staff and raising class sizes beyond the current 25 to 30 per room. The decision affects about 650 of the district's 1,650 students and saves $240,000 a year, said John Stewart, chief financial officer.
Getting rid of transportation helped close the roughly $650,000 gap in the district's $14 million budget. Employees also agreed to pay more toward their health insurance.
"We wanted to impact the classroom and educational process as little as possible," Stewart said.
Drive to Overhaul Low-Performing Schools Delayed
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan set an ambitious goal last year of overhauling 1,000 schools a year, using billions of dollars in federal stimulus money.
Pacific High School was supposed to be converted into a charter school.
But that effort is off to an uneven start. Schools from Maine to California are starting the fall term with their overhaul plans postponed or in doubt because negotiations among federal regulators, state officials and local educators have led to delays and confusion.
In this sprawling district east of Los Angeles, for example, the authorities announced plans earlier this year to use the program to convert Pacific High, one of California’s worst-performing schools, to a charter school, involving a comprehensive makeover.
But with time running short this summer, the San Bernardino district switched course, adopting only smaller changes — a crackdown on tardiness and extending the school day, among others — that officials said would be more manageable.
When students returned for classes on Aug. 3, even the plan for a longer school day was delayed because California had still not distributed the $5.2 million in federal money the district hopes to spend on the school.
“This program is about making ambitious changes,” said Arturo Delgado, the San Bernardino superintendent. “But the timelines were so quick, and we had to make adjustments on the fly.”
The initiative is a key part of the Obama administration’s overall education strategy, but has been overshadowed by Race to the Top.
The turnaround effort is being financed with $3.5 billion this year.
Federal officials say the turnaround initiative is on track, as low-performing schools in many states have reorganized teaching staffs and instructional programs.
From the outset, states have had the option of delaying disbursement of federal money to schools if more planning was needed, said Peter Cunningham, a Department of Education spokesman.
“A lot of schools are well ahead of the game,” Mr. Cunningham said, “and those that aren’t can roll the money over until next year.”
Still, experts have been warning for months that the administration’s timetable was too tight, forcing schools and districts to create last-minute plans.
“To do this right, schools needed to know probably nine months ago that they’d be funded, but many are only finding out now,” said Robert Manwaring, an expert on school turnaround efforts at Education Sector, a nonprofit research center in Washington.
In March, Mr. Manwaring wrote in his blog that the Education Department was pursuing a “crazy timeline” and should postpone the initiative to allow better planning.
But the program is financed with stimulus money that by law must be awarded this fall, so federal officials have rushed to inaugurate it this year.
The lag in disbursing the money will affect students in different ways. For some, it will mean less-qualified instructors in the classroom, because many schools getting money were not ready to hire new teachers in the spring, when the best candidates were available.
And in several states, students were unable to participate in summer activities that were supposed to be part of their school’s turnaround strategy, but were canceled because financing did not arrive in time.
Some eligible districts concluded that the schedule was too tight to allow time to develop coherent reorganization plans. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest system, applied for only 13 of its 31 eligible schools.
“It wasn’t feasible to do so many schools within this timeline,” said Sharon V. Robinson, a special assistant to the Los Angeles superintendent.
In Wyoming, 12 of 18 eligible schools turned down the money.
“We only had a couple of weeks before the deadline and would just about have had to shut down regular operations to figure out how to spend all that money,” said M. Neil Terhune, superintendent of Carbon County No. 1 District in Wyoming.
State grants range from $8.5 million for Vermont to $415 million for California. Each of a state’s lowest-achieving schools can apply for up to $6 million to be used over three years.
During the last decade, many low-performing schools found ways to get federal money without making significant changes, and Mr. Duncan insisted that rules be tightened to require new initiatives.
Some experts note that the long-term benefits of the ambitious turnaround program matter more than any short-term difficulties in carrying out changes.
“Everybody could always use more time, but this year we’re seeing a lot of energy being applied to find creative solutions,” said Bryan C. Hassel, a Harvard-trained consultant who is advising several states on their turnaround programs.
To obtain grants, states submit applications to Washington, pledging that their lowest-performing schools will carry out one of four strategies: a turnaround, including replacing the principal and at least half the staff, and using more data to develop instruction and other changes; reopening as a charter school; closing the school and transferring the students; or so-called transformation, centered on replacing the principal, training teachers and lengthening the school day.
After federal officials approve a state’s application, state officials in turn review districts’ proposals before awarding money.
Some of the longest delays have resulted from negotiations between state officials and superintendents over drafts of proposals. But it also took many months for federal officials to process all the state applications.
“We have been focused on making sure that schools and districts will have the capacity to do this well,” said Ann Whalen, a special assistant to Mr. Duncan.
By April 30, the federal department had approved about 30 state applications, including those of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
But approval of almost all the rest of the applications did not come until June, July and August.
Hawaii and Tennessee were still awaiting federal approval for their applications the third week of August. Dozens of schools in Tennessee began the fall term still hoping to begin turnaround plans in midsemester.
When Mr. Duncan made turnarounds a centerpiece of his tenure as schools chief in Chicago, he allowed schools more time to plan. Schools were approved for overhaul in February, allowing a new principal to begin hiring new teachers in March, giving a new instructional team six months to coalesce before fall classes.
The national timetable this year “has been really tight for a true turnaround,” said Robin Lake, a University of Washington researcher who studies school overhauls.
Some schools have had to cancel summer initiatives that were part of their strategy. At Livermore Falls High School in Maine, educators began carrying out some elements of the school’s overhaul plan, including hiring a new principal, well before the state’s application gained federal approval on July 12, said Susan Pratt, the local schools superintendent.
But because state officials had not approved the school’s proposal or disbursed the federal money, a summer program to help eighth grade students transition to high school had to be canceled, Ms. Pratt said.
“This was a great deal of work for our school system, and then we waited and waited,” she said.
In San Bernardino, teachers and parents who felt a burst of energy in the spring as they helped imagine Pacific High’s redesign as a charter school were dispirited and confused when the district abruptly abandoned those plans.
“That was a little rough,” said Tex Acosta, Pacific High’s principal. “Our teachers, students and community didn’t know what to make of it.”
Source: New York Times
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