The federal stimulus money for education is prompting states, much more than before, to embrace reforms promoted by the U.S. Department of Education, reports the Christian Science Monitor. In particular, states are moving to better track students’ progress and to use rigorous assessment tests. These conclusions are drawn from a new study by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) in Washington. The report sizes up the impact so far of the $100 billion in stimulus money that has started going to education. These funds include the $5 billion in Race to the Top grants, which will be awarded in a competition. States haven’t even applied for this money yet, but the grants already appear to be a key factor in states deciding to make changes. The Education Department has outlined four priorities for states receiving stimulus money, with particularly stringent requirements for those applying for a Race to the Top grant: (1) Establishing data systems that track students’ progress from preschool through college. (2) Developing and using rigorous standards and assessments. (3) Improving teacher effectiveness and the distribution of high-quality teachers. (4) Turning around the lowest-performing schools. The most progress has been made in the first two areas, the study found. The priorities around teachers and school turnarounds seem to be getting less action, perhaps because they involve more players and are often undertaken at the district level. They’re also more nebulous. "We don’t even have agreement on what makes an effective teacher," said Jack Jennings, CEP president. "And I don’t think we know how to systematically improve poorly performing schools." This is one reason that some education experts are taking issue with the priorities laid out by the federal government…

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