The top 10 ed-tech stories of 2010: No. 2

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was optimistic the Republican election victories wouldn’t derail the administration’s plans, but conceded: “There’s no guarantee our agenda will continue to move.”

The controversial documentary film Waiting for ‘Superman’ has shined a national spotlight on the need for school reform, while sparking intense debate over how best to achieve this goal.

The film portrays teachers’ unions as the primary obstacle to reform, and it espouses fixes—such as using test scores to measure teacher quality, and merit pay to encourage better teaching—that are contentious issues. Critics of the film say it provides a shallow view of the problems plaguing public education while ignoring other challenges altogether.

Paul Heckman, associate dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Davis, said teachers have come to represent both the unit of change and the unit of blame in education.…Read More

States that lost school money face reform dilemmas

Many states won't be able to implement their reform plans.

It’s like buying a fancy dress but having no date to the prom–dozens of states that crafted new education policies to compete for a share of the $3.4 billion “Race to the Top” school reform grant prizes were shut out.

Now, as the 11 winning states and the District of Columbia set about spending their awards, the losing states are left wondering what to do with ambitious reform plans they planned to fund with the money.

In Colorado, for example, lawmakers had the prize in mind earlier this year when they adopted a contentious plan to pay teachers based on student performance. Now, state educators are obligated to come up with a new evaluation for teachers–with no new money to pay for it.…Read More

With divided Congress, school reform faces a tough road ahead

Duncan said the Republican election victories wouldn't derail the administration's plans.

The Obama administration has pushed an ambitious education agenda in the last two years, sending $100 billion to states thorough the stimulus package and spurring reform in many locations through the Race to the Top competition.

But none of the major initiatives pushed by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been bipartisan. Most were approved through large spending bills that Republicans opposed.

Politicians and experts say the big Republican gains in Congress will serve as a roadblock to further Democrat-led education reform efforts, including a likely decrease in big-ticket spending as the GOP seeks greater fiscal restraint.…Read More

Putting our ideas of assessment to the test


How we evaluate students, and teachers, is at a crossroads.
How we evaluate students, and teachers, is at a crossroads.


Default Lines column, October 2010 issue of eSchool News—Here’s a pop quiz: What are the skills that today’s students will need to be successful in tomorrow’s workplace?…Read More

Ed tech is one focus of Maryland’s Race to the Top funds

Maryland recently became one of 10 winners of the second round of federal Race to the Top grants, and Charles County officials are ready to get the ball rolling with several projects, some of which involve education technology, reports. The Maryland State Department of Education announced that Maryland will receive up to $250 million in federal funding. Charles County school officials said they are pleased with the $1.5 million the local school system is set to receive. Race to the Top reforms include revised curricula based on core standards for college and career readiness, improved technology to aid instruction and track student achievement, prioritizing teacher evaluation linked to student test scores, and a plan for improving performance in struggling schools. Judy Estep, the county’s assistant superintendent of instruction, said one component of the county’s plans is a digital classroom at the new St. Charles High School. The digital classroom will include stadium seating and a dome that will surround students with images four times the resolution of a home high-definition television—and it would be open to all schools in the area and the community…

Click here for the full story

…Read More

New Jersey schools chief fired after Race to the Top gaffe

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired his education commissioner on Aug. 27, days after it was revealed that a simple mistake on an application form might have cost the state a $400 million Race to the Top grant, reports the Associated Press. The dismissal of Commissioner Bret Schundler comes after New Jersey became the top runner-up for the controversial federal grants, missing out by only a few points. The Star-Ledger of Newark later reported that budget figures for the wrong years were supplied in one section of the application. Christie had defended Schundler on Aug. 25 and blamed the federal Education Department (ED) for considering form over substance. Christie originally said Schundler gave the federal government the missing information during a meeting in Washington this month. But a video released by ED officials Aug. 26 shows that wasn’t the case. “I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me by the New Jersey Department of Education and which I then conveyed to the people of New Jersey,” Christie said in a statement. “As a result, I ordered an end to Bret Schundler’s service as New Jersey’s Education Commissioner and as a member of my administration.” Schundler said in a telephone interview with the AP that he was disappointed with being dismissed. “I don’t believe that education commissioners are interchangeable any more than governors are,” he said. “We could have been very successful at accelerating reforms in New Jersey.”

Click here for the full story

…Read More

Did Race to the Top help or hurt the push for a common curriculum?

States were working on a common set of education standards before the Obama administration decided to make adoption of them part of its Race to the Top competition. The prospect of winning federal money motivated some states to pass the standards, but the administration’s blessing might have turned others away, reports. Nine states and the District of Columbia were awarded Race to the Top education grants Aug. 24, ending the interstate competition. Nowhere was the competition among states more fierce than in their efforts to adopt a common academic curriculum known as the “Common Core” standards. So far, 36 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards. Many of them seemed motivated by the possibility that doing so would help their applications for the Race to the Top money. But even though advocates for the standards are encouraged by the enthusiasm with which state officials have bought into common standards, they also are wary of the political baggage that can come with an endorsement from the Obama administration. In 2005, the National Governors Association led an initiative to get states to use the same measures to calculate graduation rates. That initiative evolved into a broader effort over the past year, as education officials from 48 states—Alaska and Texas did not participate—worked on developing a new set of academic standards for K-12 schools in conjunction with the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Those quiet state-led efforts got tied up in national politics when the administration decided to use the standards as a criterion for Race to the Top. That has made it harder for state officials to convince conservative legislators or board of education members to sign off on the Common Core standards, some observers say…

Click here for the full story

…Read More

$3.4B for 9 states, D.C. in Race to the Top grants

The Race to the Top program, part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, rewards states for taking up ambitious changes to improve struggling schools.
The Race to the Top program, part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan, rewards states for taking up ambitious changes to improve struggling schools.

More than 13 million students and 1 million educators will share $3.4 billion from the second round of the federal “Race to the Top” grant competition, the U.S. Education Department (ED) said on Aug. 24.

The department chose nine states–Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island–and the District of Columbia for the grants. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 25,000 schools will get money to raise student learning and close the achievement gap.

The Race to the Top program, part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, rewards states for taking up ambitious changes to improve struggling schools. 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.…Read More

Lesson plan in Boston schools: Don’t go it alone

Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools, reports the New York Times. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money. From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most. In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around–the teachers–and not always fair. Often the decisions about which teachers will stay and which will go are made by new principals who may be very good, but don’t know the old staff. “We had several good teachers asked to leave,” said Heather Gorman, a fourth-grade teacher who will be staying at Blackstone Elementary here, where 38 of 50 teachers were removed. “Including my sister who’s been a special-ed teacher 22 years.”

Click here to read more

…Read More

Race to the Top program spurs school-reform debate

The competition rewards ambitious but controversial reforms aimed at improving struggling schools and closing the achievement gap.
The competition rewards ambitious but controversial reforms aimed at improving struggling schools and closing the achievement gap.

The U.S. Department of Education has named 18 states and the District of Columbia as finalists in the second round of the federal “Race to the Top” (RTTT) grant competition, giving them a chance to receive a share of $3.4 billion to implement broad school reforms. The July 27 announcement came just one day after a coalition of civil-rights organizations criticized the Obama administration’s approach to education reform, highlighting a growing disconnect between administration officials and critics of its education policies.

The 18 states that are finalists for the second round of RTTT grants are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

The competition rewards ambitious but controversial reforms aimed at improving struggling schools and closing the achievement gap. Dozens of states have passed new education policies to foster charter school growth and modify teacher evaluations, hoping to make themselves more attractive to the judges.…Read More