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Colorado makes R2T finalist list

Colorado, 17 other states and the District of Columbia are the finalists in the second round of the federal Race to the Top competition, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Tuesday.

The list also includes Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. A total of 36 states applied for round two.

Delaware and Tennessee were the only two round one winners; the other 14 finalists in that round made the cut in round two. Colorado ranked 14th of the 16 round one finalists with a score of 409.6 out of a possible 500 points.

Duncan, speaking at the National Press Club, said all 19 finalists scored above 400 in the 500-point rating system, and that average scores rose 26 points over round one. Duncan called that “absolutely inspiring.”

He said individual state scores aren’t being released at this time because they likely will change after states have their in-person interviews next month.

“It’s so important for peer reviewers to look these teams in the eye,” Duncan said, explaining how scores can change after the interviews.

He praised all 19 applications as “absolutely extraordinary, courageous plans” but explained that a key purpose of the interviews is “to determine which states have the best ability to implement. … It’s much more looking at states’ capacity to deliver on their plans” and the strength of each state’s management team.

Duncan was asked by reporters if single factors like union participation or the strength of teacher accountability systems will make or break applications. “There’s never one right or wrong answer that helps you win or not win. We’re looking at this in aggregate.”

Nina Lopez, coordinator of stimulus programs from the Colorado Department of Education, said Colorado’s interview is scheduled for Aug. 10.

She said education Commissioner Dwight Jones and Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien (who’s leaving office in January), will again lead the state’s team, with the other three members still to be decided.

The round one interview team included Jones, O’Brien, Lopez, Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning and Linda Barker, director of teaching and learning for the Colorado Education Association.

Lopez said the interview team will focus on learning all the details of the state’s application, trying to anticipate questions, and will do some practice interview sessions, starting as early as next week.

Talking about money, the secretary said there “should be enough to fund 10 to 15 states, depending on the size of the awards.”

Duncan told reporters later that the 19 applications total $6.2 billion, far above the $3.4 billion available.

The secretary was asked if the department might make smaller grants than requested in order to give money to more states. “We’ll get to that as we get further down the road. … We really don’t make those decisions until we see how each of those 19 … have scored.”

He added, “My goal is to fund very strong states. … The money is going to be there for the finalists.”

There are different tiers of possible award amounts based on state populations.

  • Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania are in the $200-$400 million range.
  • Arizona, Maryland and Massachusetts are in the $150-$250 million range.
  • Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana and South Carolina are in the $60-$175 million range.
  • The District of Columbia, Hawaii and Rhode Island are in the $20-$75 million range.

Colorado asked for $377 million in the first round, during which the tier limitations did not apply.

“We are extremely pleased to make the final round of the Race to the Top contest,” said Gov. Bill Ritter, reacting to Tuesday’s announcement. “We are working hard to win this competition because we want to bring every dollar we can to Colorado to provide a world-class education system for our children so they have the tools to succeed in the 21st century workforce.”

Jones said, “While we were disappointed not to win in Phase 1, we have taken the opportunity to sharpen our focus on the more critical elements of our reform agenda. We are eager to partner with school districts that have committed to this important work. Colorado’s plan is about improving achievement for all students and closing gaps in achievement.”

State Board of Education Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, said, “The board stands strongly behind Commissioner Jones and department staff on these reforms. These are the right action steps to make substantive improvements that our students deserve and all parents expect.”

“Our selection as a finalist is a testament to Colorado regaining its place as a national leader on education reform,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and author of the state’s new educator evaluation and tenure law. “At a time when we’re forced to cut education budgets at the state level, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars that can help support classrooms and districts across the state.”

A look inside Colorado’s application

The state’s 193-page application for $175 million pitched the state’s history of education reform measures, including the new educator effectiveness law, and it primarily requests money to implement those reforms.

The bulk of the funds, if Colorado wins a grant, would be used for implementing new content standards and tests at the district level, creation of new educator evaluation systems, encouraging effective principals and teachers to work in low-performing schools and providing turnaround help for the state’s most struggling schools.

The application retained many of the elements of the state’s unsuccessful first-round application and added requests to help implement the educator effectiveness law (Senate Bill 10-191), which was passed late in the legislature session after Colorado lost its first bid.

About $90 million of the $175 million would go directly to participating districts, as the program requires at least half the funds go to local education agencies.

The department has signed memoranda of understanding (formal agreements to participate) with 114 districts and other education agencies, 64 percent of the 180 in the state. Those districts include 89.9 percent of the state’s students, 84 percent of schools and 91 percent of poor students. For the first round application the state had agreements with districts including about 95 percent of the state’s students. The only two notable non-participants in round two are the Pueblo County and St. Vrain districts.

O’Brien said Tuesday, “Our application also represents teamwork and participation from the Colorado Association of School Boards, Colorado Association of School Executives and the business community. We fully expect the grant reviewers to see that Coloradans are in this together and determined to tackle the hard work ahead.”

The Colorado Education Association participated in round one but boycotted round two because of SB 10-191. The Colorado unit of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents primarily the Douglas County Schools, signed on to round two.

CEA President Beverly Ingle
CEA President Beverly Ingle

CEA President Beverly Ingle said Tuesday, “We will continue to work with CDE on the scope and implementation of the priorities outlined in the state’s Race to the Top application, whether Colorado receives funding or not. CEA is committed to improving student achievement and our public schools. Our 40,000 members are most concerned about the implementation of new standards, assessments, and programs affecting teacher and principal effectiveness. If we receive Race to the Top money, the implementation process will occur more quickly.”

In broad terms, the state’s application focuses on these goals, as required by the federal government:

  • Increase student learning through teacher mastery and delivery of common standards and assessments.
  • Use, learn, and leverage high quality information to drive increased student performance.
  • Ensure all students have access to effective teachers and principals.
  • Turn around persistently lowest-achieving schools.

A state also is required to demonstrate how it will build a statewide system of accountability and support to accomplish and sustain those goals.

Colorado’s application promises, over time, to increase:

  • College enrollment from 62.9 to 70 percent
  • College retention from 66.3 to 75 percent
  • 4th grade National Assessment of Education Progress math proficiency from 45 to 55 percent
  • Higher school graduation rate from 74.6 percent to 90 percent
  • 4th grade NAEP reading proficiency from 40 to 60 percent
  • 8th grade math NAEP proficiency from 40 to 60 percent
  • 8th grade reading NAEP proficiency from 32 to 52 percent
  • Overall CSAP math proficiency from 54.5 to 85 percent
  • Overall CSAP reading proficiency from 68.3 to 85 percent
  • Reduce the achievement gap among all subgroups from 30 to 10 percent

Those goals have raised skepticism in some quarters, but state education leaders argue that Colorado has the infrastructure for reform in place but needs the funds to implement those programs.

Here’s a breakdown of how the state proposes to spend the $175 million if Colorado wins that amount:

  • $13.6 million – Statewide implementation and administrative costs, primarily at the state Department of Education.
  • $13 million – Funding the Content Collaboratives and Regional Support Teams that will roll out new content standards and assessments to school districts, creation of an instructional improvement system on the department’s SchoolView website and extra support for small and rural districts.
  • $5.8 million – Subsidies and incentives for districts to create and share curricula, for purchase of formative and interim tests and state review of available interim tests.
  • $15.2 million – Build out and support of an expanded SchoolView system, including teacher, principal and administrator portals; expansion of Colorado Growth Model data; and incentives for effective educators to provide instructional materials.
  • $8 million – Money for state personnel and outside consultants to help districts develop and implement new educator evaluations systems and to identify measures of educator effectiveness, especially in currently untested grades and subjects.
  • $5.1 million – Funding for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness and for districts to implement evaluation systems.
  • $4.1 million – Development of effective teachers and principals with a focus on low-performing schools, including residency programs, increased national board certification and hiring of Teach for America members.
  • $4.3 million – Expansion of the department’s School Leadership Academy, which will include a Turnaround Leaders Academy.
  • $3.2 million – Expansion of the number of students who take Advanced Placement and of the number of under-represented students who take college-prep classes.
  • $884,000 – Funding for the department’s existing dropout prevention and student re-engagement program.
  • $11 million – Creation of a school Turnaround and Intervention Unit within CDE to help districts conduct successful turnarounds of low-performing schools.
  • $90.3 million – The funds that will go directly to participating schools districts and other local education agencies.

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