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Colorado panel grilled on R2T bid

Race to the Top reviewers Tuesday pressed Colorado’s delegation for details on how the state can successfully implement its ambitious education reform plans.

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones, interviewed by Education News Colorado after the delegation’s 90-minute meeting with reviewers, said, “I felt good about the session overall. … It seemed like the review panel liked Colorado’s plan and felt it was very ambitious.

“They liked the ambition but had quite a few questions about how you implement it in a local-control state,” Jones added.

Colorado, 17 other states and the District of Columbia were named round-two R2T finalists on July 27, and delegations representing each finalist met with reviewers in Washington this week.

Jones, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, Aurora Superintendent John Barry and Colorado Department of Education executives Nina Lopez and Diana Sirko represented Colorado.

In response to the implementation question, Jones said, “We really kind of stuck to how we outlined it in our plan,” emphasizing the regional support teams, content collaboratives and other structures that Colorado has proposed to implement new standards and tests, improve teacher performance and help struggling schools if the state wins R2T funds.

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. About half the funds would go to participating school districts.

Colorado was an unsuccessful finalist for round one of R2T last spring and went through a similar interview process. Jones said he felt the first reviewer panel didn’t understand the strategies as well as the second panel did.

Jones also said the second five-member panel “spent a lot of time talking about SchoolView,” the state’s Web data portal. Colorado’s application proposes to rely heavily on SchoolView as a communications tool with districts and teachers.

The panel seemed impressed by the state’s new educator effectiveness law (Senate Bill 10-191), and Jones said O’Brien talked at length about that and other recent reform legislation during Colorado’s presentation. (The delegation had 30 minutes to make its case, followed by an hour of questions from reviewers.)

Jones said the presentation was similar to the pitch CDE leaders made to school districts around the state earlier this summer as they tried to sign up local participants in the state plan.

The reviewers seemed comfortable with the percentage of students represented by participating districts (about 90 percent) but also asked “how this would go with the unions,” Jones said.

The Colorado Education Association supported the state’s first application but boycotted the second because of SB 10-191. The Colorado unit of the American Federation of Teachers supports the second application. Jones said the panel told reviewers CEA has promised to support implementation if Colorado receives a grant.

Asked how the panel felt after the session, Jones aid, “I think the feeling was very cautiously optimistic, [but] it’s anybody’s guess as to what ultimately happens. Praising his team, Jones said, “I really felt like Colorado was well represented at the table.”

Colorado has requested $175 million in R2T funds. About $3.4 billion is available, but the 19 applications total more than $6.2 billion. All finalists scored above 400 on a 500-point scale. Scores may be adjusted up or down following the interviews. Winners are expected to be announced in early September.

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