This week the U.S. Department of Education released a draft of the regulations guiding the first district Race to the Top (RTT-D) program. The draft document will be posted for public comment until June 8th on their website.
This is a chance to make our voices heard.
Here is my voice... I welcome dialogue.
I want to start by saying that I generally support the Race to the Top program. Having been involved in school reform efforts for more than a decade, I have seen districts struggle to change ineffective practices while having to account to a funding structure with conflicting policies. I acknowledge that this is part of the change process but truly welcome the alignment of funding and practice.
Under RTT-D approximately $400 million dollars will be awarded to a specified number of districts or consortia of districts who demonstrate "bold, comprehensive reform in elementary and secondary education." The specific guidelines, for winning a grant, while reflective of important school reform components, are equally as vague.
Many valuable tools and processes have emerged or are emerging, to define school reform components. For example, the Common Core State Standards, pre-school through K-12 data systems that track student progress, common formative assessments, time for teachers to reflect with their colleagues, use of technology for core instruction to name a few. These are the frequent topics of popular education blogs and articles. Each of these components is valuable in the movement toward an educational system that is flexible and responsive to the needs of all students.
That's just it...what is lacking is a vision of the end result; an organizational system. The adage, "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts," is very true here. Generally, the traditional structures and practices that guide the business of schools are based on an outdated organizational model. Instead new tools and processes are introduced "as if" they are reform. Even in places where there is a desire to change the organization, without a blueprint for change, practices often migrate to the status quo and a "reformed system" ends up being the traditional model with a new set of forms and vocabulary words.
Let's face it, change is hard and change without direction produces anxiety, frustration and complacency. I understand and respect the skepticism of teachers given the track record of school change efforts.
I would like to see the guidelines for receiving a RTT-D grant include a district plan for organizing their school reform efforts. Specific long term structures that give shape to the individual pieces would insure that the efforts had depth and substance.
- A professional development plan, for example, that aligns scarce professional development opportunities with the goals of the school reform system.
- Standardized practices for making decisions about assessment data at the individual student, grade, school and district levels is another example.
- An assessment hierarchy that guides the use of assessments for specific purposes is a third example.
- Practices for establishing and regularly monitoring the effectiveness of the instruction that all students receive is yet another.
Districts often do not have the time, resources or in district expertise to develop a research based system that unifies all of the components. Let's not make the same mistake by funding pieces without a direction. RTT-D presents the opportunity to correct this omission by including organizational guidelines.