States that present the strongest proposals on improving teachers and leaders and on struggling schools will have the best chance to win federal Race to the Top grants, Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project told Colorado educators Friday.

The federal stimulus law, of which R2T is a part, sets four areas of emphasis for use of federal funds. Known as the four assurances, they are: Standards and assessments, data systems to support instructions, great teachers and leaders, and turning around struggling schools.

The project has done extensive analysis of R2T criteria and of how individual states might stack up.

Daly spoke Friday in Denver to the Great Teachers and Leaders Committee, one of four volunteer panels that are helping develop Colorado’s application for R2T.

“I think the states that will win will win on” the strength of their leadership and struggling schools proposals, Daly said. He said state proposals on standards and assessments and data systems are likely to be more similar.

For instance, on standards and assessments, Daly said, “I think Colorado is in great shape … but it’s unlikely to be a differentiator.” Again, on data, he said, “I think you all are doing great work, but … it won’t be determinative.”

Colorado education officials are scheduled to adopt new content standards at the end of this year and new statewide assessments at the end of 2010. Both are part of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids reform program adopted in 2008.

State officials have long been optimistic about their R2T chances, partly because of the CAP4K reforms. But, they have acknowledged that the state may be less competitive in the area of great teachers and leaders.

Daly noted that state law allows only two ratings in teacher evaluations – satisfactory and unsatisfactory. He noted that the proposed R2T requirements call for states to have – or be working toward – finer differentiations of teacher and principal effectiveness in advancing student achievement.

“I wouldn’t submit an application that has only [two] teacher ratings in it,” Daly said.

On the issue of turning struggling schools around, Daly said he feels the Department of Education may look more favorably on plans that call for reconstituting, turning over to outside management or closing failing schools, rather than plans that propose “transforming” schools with existing staff largely intact. DOE’s “feeling is that [transformation] hasn’t been working.”

Daly praised the four-committee process Colorado has been using to develop the R2T application, noting that one of the requirements is wide support for the proposal by a state’s leaders and education community. “This sort of meeting isn’t happening in a lot of states,” he said, calling the Colorado process “a huge advantage.”

All four committees met this week. Committee proposals are expected to be refined at meetings next month (see schedule).

Committee proposals will be refined into the state’s application by consultants including the School of Public Affairs at CU-Denver, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates and the Third Mile Group. Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien is coordinating the state’s R2T bid (more info here), and the Department of Education is overseeing other education stimulus programs and grants.

The DOE issued preliminary guidance for the R2T program in late July, which was open to public comment until Aug. 28. Daly said the agency has received more than 1,500 comments. In Colorado’s response, Gov. Bill Ritter and O’Brien raised questions about the lack of information about how preschool and higher education might fit into state reform efforts, about the extent to which R2T will require states to adopt common content standards, about the extent to which the state can oversee school district spending of R2T funds and about the transparency of the R2T bid evaluation process.

The National Governors’ Association also raised several concerns about DOE’s R2T guidance (see letter). Several of those concerns involve constitutional and legal questions about the relationship between states and the federal government and between states and local education agencies such as school districts. The letter was sent over Ritter’s signature as chair of the NGA’s education committee.

DOE is expected to release its revised guidance this fall, perhaps as early as Oct. 1. Daly said Friday it’s hard to speculate about what, if anything, might change in the document.

New Teacher Project R2T analysis

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