Lawmakers trade broadband grants, school reforms for education jobs

The measure must still pass the Senate, where Republicans have threatened a filibuster.
The measure still must pass in the Senate, where Republicans have threatened a filibuster.

School districts would get $10 billion in additional funding to help them avoid laying off teachers, and college students would get $5 billion more in Pell Grant money to account for a shortfall in that program, under a supplementary spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives July 1. But the additional funding would come at a price for other programs, including $600 million in cuts to broadband stimulus funding and $800 million in cuts to school-reform initiatives.

The changes are part of an $80 billion war spending bill needed to pay for President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. As of press time, the bill was awaiting action in the Senate.

The president has promised to veto the bill over its proposed cuts to his school-reform initiatives, including $100 million in charter school funding, $200 million in Teacher Incentive Fund money, and $500 million from the Education Department’s showcase “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program.…Read More

States collaborate on new national exams


A coalition led by Washington state is developing a plan for computerized adaptive testing.
Washington is leading a group of 31 states in developing a common test that would be given online twice a year.


Two large coalitions of states are competing for federal “Race to the Top” dollars to create a series of new national academic tests to replace the current patchwork system.…Read More

35 states, D.C. apply for Round 2 of Race to the Top funding

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia submitted applications June 1 for the second round of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition to boost student achievement and advance school reform, reports the Associated Press. The program, part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus law, will provide $4 billion in funding to states that are implementing innovative reforms—such as tying student performance to teacher evaluations—to turn around failing schools and close the achievement gap. Tennessee and Delaware were awarded $600 million in the first round. Another $350 million has been set aside for a separate competition to improve the quality of assessments. To improve their chances of winning a grant, many states passed significant reform laws that allowed for the development of more charter schools and tightened teacher accountability and tenure requirements—reform initiatives that are valued by the Obama administration but are controversial with teacher unions. Nine states that submitted applications last time did not reapply by the June 1 deadline. Some, including Minnesota, said they did not receive enough support from unions, while others were wary of passing reform laws and adopting common academic standards across states. Finalists for the remaining funds will be selected over the summer, and winners will be announced in September. The Education Department said 10 to 15 states could win grants…

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Several states walk away from ‘Race to the Top’ millions

About two dozen states are going back to Washington for another shot at billions in education grants under the federal “Race to the Top” program, but at least nine others with more than 7 million children are opting out of trying a second time, reports the Associated Press. For them, a chance at hundreds of millions of dollars wasn’t enough to overcome the opposition of teachers unions, the wariness of state leaders to pass laws to suit the program, and fears of giving up too much local control. Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming will all be on the sidelines for the second round, along with a handful of other states that didn’t apply the first time. So far, only two states—Delaware and Tennessee—have been approved for the money. This could be the last time “Race to the Top” money is given out. The Education Department probably will dole out the remaining nearly $4 billion in the second round, and it’s unlikely Congress will allocate more. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the department was “thrilled with the level of participation we’ve seen,” and the reforms enacted by the states that did apply “makes them all winners when it comes to furthering the state of education for our kids.”

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Feds to shape the future of assessment

Educators say it’s time to move to multiple=

Federal officials are leading the charge to develop a new generation of summative, end-of-year exams that are delivered and scored by computer; focus on a deeper understanding of the curriculum, instead of just multiple choice; and can measure students’ readiness for college or a career more accurately.

“There is widespread concern that the most prominent assessments currently being used in the U.S. are inadequate and may have a significantly negative impact on student learning,” says Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) Senior Fellow Robert Rothman, author of a recent issue brief called “Principles for a Comprehensive Assessment System.”…Read More

States skeptical about ‘Race to Top’ school aid contest

The initial results of the Obama administration’s signature school improvement initiative, known as Race to the Top, have left a sour taste for many states, reports the New York Times: Many state leaders are questioning the criteria by which winners were chosen, wondering why there were only two that won and criticizing a last-minute cap on future awards. Colorado, which had hoped to win $377 million, finished in 14th place—and Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. says the scoring by anonymous judges seemed inscrutable, some Coloradans view the contest as federal intrusion, and he has not decided whether to reapply for the second round. “It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Ritter said. Besides Colorado, a string of other states—including Arizona, California, Nebraska, South Carolina, and South Dakota—say they have not yet decided whether to keep participating. “There’s a serious conversation going on here about whether it makes sense to put all that time and effort in again to reapply,” said Rick Miller, former deputy schools superintendent of California. Officials from several states criticized the scoring of the contest, which favored states able to gain support from 100 percent of school districts and local teachers’ unions for Obama administration objectives like expanding charter schools, reworking teacher evaluation systems, and turning around low-performing schools. Marshalling such support is one thing for a tiny state like Delaware, with 38 districts, they said, and quite another for, say, California, with some 1,500…

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Delaware, Tennessee win first ‘Race to the Top’ grants

Winners in the first round of Race to the Top have been announced.
Winners in the first round of Race to the Top have been announced.

Broad support from key stakeholders, including elected officials, teachers’ unions, and local business leaders, was an important factor in awarding the first round of “Race to the Top” grants to Delaware and Tennessee, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) said March 29.

Those two states were the only ones chosen from among 16 finalists to receive part of an unprecedented $4.35 billion to help them improve student performance and transform struggling schools.

“We received many strong proposals from states all across America, but two applications stood out above all others: Delaware and Tennessee,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in announcing the winners. “Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”…Read More

Race to the Top finalists announced

States with the biggest committment to 21st century skills are finalists in the $4.35 billion program.
States with the biggest commitment to 21st-century skills are finalists in the $4.35 billion program.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has named 16 finalists in the first round of its Race to the Top competition, which will deliver $4.35 billion in school reform grants.

Selected March 4 from a pool of 41 applicants were Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The winners will be chosen in April.

The grants are designed to reward 21st-century initiatives and spur states to lift student achievement by developing strong standards, getting high-quality teachers in the classroom, and turning around low-performing schools.…Read More

Obama calls for more school funding

Education was a key part of President Obama's State of the Union address.
Education was a key part of President Obama's State of the Union address.

Education is one of the few areas of the federal budget that would not see a spending freeze, if President Barack Obama gets his way this year.

In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 27, Obama said his administration will work with Congress to expand school improvements across the country, saying the success of children cannot depend on where they live.

As he prepares to ask Congress for billions of dollars in new spending for education, the president said the nation’s students need to be inspired to succeed in math and science, and that failing schools need to be turned around.…Read More