Five Takeaways from Race to the Top Year-Three Reports

Today, the U.S Department of Education released Year-Three reports on the 12 states that won funding via Race to the Top’s first two competitions. Here are the five things that jumped out at me.

1.   Common Core implementation, front and center
While politicians and talking heads have been warring over the new standards, these states have been neck-deep in implementation. States are approaching implementation differently—some focusing on training, while others are producing model units and lesson plans—but all of them seem to have kept their eye on this ball.

2.   Will the training work?
A number of states placed huge bets on professional development, spending enormous sums to train their teachers and school leaders. In a few cases, states have served tens of thousands of educators; Florida’s report claims 134,000 educators attended their training sessions. Given the not-so-encouraging research on the efficacy of professional development, we have to wonder if this money was well spent. But as one state leader told me, “We had to take a chance on PD…how else were we going to get our teachers ready for new standards and assessments?”

3.   Teacher-evaluation troubles
Many of the reports highlight the challenges these states face in faithfully implementing the teacher-evaluation promises they made in their applications. This includes not producing growth scores on time, having trouble differentiating teachers as expected, and more. Georgia is probably in the worst shape on this front—it may lose funding because it hasn’t developed the compensation system it promised, and it finds itself in high-risk status because of its struggling evaluation system.

4.   Tech issues abound
Most states made commitments related to technology and data systems, such as building new platforms to house resources for schools and districts. A number of states have fallen behind—some because of procurement issues, some because of vendor problems, and some just because this appears to be harder than they expected.

5.   Credit to the U.S. Department of Education and SEAs
Race to the Top is a gigantic program and state departments of education were not designed to be reform leaders, so the U.S. Department of Education was taking a leap of faith by funneling so much money through SEAs and depending on them to successfully implement big plans. Things aren’t going perfectly by any means, but all in all, it’s been smoother sailing than we might’ve expected. The Department, particularly its Implementation and Support Unit, and state chiefs deserve credit.

– Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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