State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan has announced that upwards of 50 school districts have signed on to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s (SDE) proposed education reform plan for funding under the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant.
At a news conference held on the morning of January 11, the official deadline for the local application process, McQuillan told reporters that 50 local school districts already had submitted their applications to his office. He added that he expected to hear from more districts throughout the day as local Boards of Education and local teachers unions officially committed to the state RTTT reform effort.
Up for grabs in the national RTTT competition is more than four billion with potentially $175 million for Connecticut.
Districts that agree to work with the state and participate in the RTTT grant must implement all or significant portions of the state’s reform plan that addresses the following four themes:
- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to complete in the global economy.
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.
- Turning around the state’s lowest-achieving schools.
The timeframe for the reform plan is four years. Half of the funding (approximately $87.5 million) in the state application would go to school districts that commit to participating in the state plan. The other half of the funding would be devoted mostly to statewide initiatives, including professional development for teachers and administrators, the expansion of the longitudinal data system, vertical scale assessment data, developing models for supporting, supervising and evaluating teachers and principals, secondary school reform, and several other initiatives.
RTTT is a competitive grant program. The federal government has established a point system to decide which states may get money based on how well each state application addresses the four themes outlined above. The largest number of points are awarded to states that best address promoting great teachers and leaders.
The bottom line is that deciding whether to sign on to the grant is a decision that each local school district and local teachers union has to make for itself. Locals have to evaluate how children’s education might improve and what their members might gain.
State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan says reports that merit pay is mandated by RTTT have been erroneous. In fact, he says many aspects of RTTT will be locally determined.
McQuillan says a small, but critical part of the reform work that will take place if Connecticut gets RTTT funds is improving student achievement in underperforming schools.
Fran Rabinowitz, Superintendent of Schools in Hamden, says that collaboration is key to school reform. She is working closely with the local Board of Education and the local teachers union.
Diane Marinaro, President of the Hamden Education Association, says that teachers are on the frontlines of education and their input is pivotal as school reform is implemented.
Diane Ullman, Superintendent of Schools in Simsbury, is heavily involved with the revision of student standards that would occur in connection with the RTTT effort. She wants state students to outperform their counterparts in some Asian and European countries.