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Advice for Colorado on winning the Race

Three like-minded education groups on Thursday released a series of reports detailing what they believe Colorado and other states must do to win some of the remaining $3.4 billion in Race to the Top money.

Colorado, ranking 14 out of 16 finalists in the first round of the 500-point contest, was 35 points shy of victory, according to the report from Democrats for Education Reform, the Education Equality Project and Education Reform Now.

“The single biggest criteria on which Colorado lost points was Great Teachers and Leaders, accounting for 37% of points lost, for a total of 33.2 points,” the groups wrote in their “Race Smarter” series.

Colorado scored 409.6 points out of 500 while the winning states of Delaware and Tennessee achieved 454.6 points and 444.2 points respectively.

“It is more or less impossible to have a winning application without an ambitious and comprehensive plan to rigorously evaluate teachers and principals, improve teacher and school leader effectiveness, and equalize the distribution of qualified and effective teachers,” the report states.

The Great Teachers and Leaders category in the Race application accounts for 28 percent – or 138 of 500 – of possible points. No state making it to the final 16 scored below 101.4 or 73.4 percent in that category.

In contrast, none of the 16 finalists received less than 86 percent in the category of Turning Around Low-Achieving Schools, worth 50 points.

“Given the difficulty all states have had in turning around their lowest-achieving schools, we find it hard to believe that high scores in this category reflect uniformly credible and ambitious approaches to school intervention,” the report states.

Colorado earned 90 percent of points possible in the turnaround category.

The groups specifically state Colorado’s chances of winning $175 million in the second round are improved if state lawmakers pass Sen. Mike Johnston’s educator effectiveness bill, which would tie student achievement to teacher and principal evaluation, pay and retention.

But the merits of Senate Bill 191 are hotly debated. Tuesday, the statewide teachers’ union withdrew support for Colorado’s Race application – they backed it in round one – because the state’s education commissioner publicly supported Johnston’s bill and said he believed it could boost the state’s chances of winning.

“We may have our work cut out for us [with] our unions across the state,” Dwight Jones, the commissioner, told State Board of Education members on Thursday. “I don’t know if that decision [to not participate in R2T] is final.”

The importance of union buy-in on a state’s application is uncertain. The winners in round one had 100 percent – Delaware – and 93 percent – Tennessee – of unions in their states agreeing to participate in reforms funded by Race dollars.

But other finalists with far lower union support – Washington, D.C. had none and Rhode Island had 4 percent – ended up scoring higher than three states that had 100 percent union support, Kentucky, Massachussetts and Ohio.

“Support matters,” the Race Smarter report concluded, “but it is not necessarily decisive.”

Additional analysis of state Race to the Top applications includes The New Teacher Project: The Real Race Begins and Policy Innovators in Education’ Game Changers.

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