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R2T rejection leaves a sour taste

State officials argued Tuesday that Colorado wasn’t judged “objectively” in the Race to the Top competition, which left the state scoring 17th out of 19 finalists and out of the money.

Gov. Bill Ritter and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien weren't at all happy with the way the state's Race to the Top Application was judged, and they said so at a news conference Tuesday.

Gov. Bill Ritter and Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien weren’t at all happy with the way the state’s Race to the Top Application was judged, and they said so at a news conference Tuesday.

“There were some flaws in how objective the scores were,” said Gov. Bill Ritter at a late-morning news conference with education officials and legislative leaders. “We believed all along we would be funded.”

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who’s led the state’s R2T effort since last year, said reviewers had “a tin ear about how things are done in the West,” where local control of schools is the tradition. “A couple of reviewers had trouble recognizing that.”

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones and others vowed the state would continue to pursue the reform policies laid out over the last three years, although he acknowledged, “It does slow down how we move forward.”

See the videos
Scroll to bottom to see videos of Gov. Bill Ritter reacting to Tuesday’s news and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announcing the winners.“We believe our reform agenda is the right agenda,” said Randy DeHoff, vice chair of the State Board of Education. Ritter stressed, “We really believe in the reform course we have charted.”

The winners are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

Colorado’s final score was 420.2 out of a possible 500 points, or 17th out of the 19 finalists.

Three of the reviewers who judged Colorado rated the state’s bid highly. But scores by two other reviewers brought the overall score down, especially in the areas of local district participation, broad stakeholder support, improving student outcomes and closing achievement gaps. Those were part of the state success factors section of the application, where Colorado received 97.6 of a possible 125 points.

Use right and bottom sliders to move graphic and see how Colorado fared in each area of R2T.
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The state also was marked down in the section dealing with great teachers and leaders, scoring 105.2 of 138 possible points. The state’s scores were stronger in the sections on standards and assessments, on data systems  and in a catch-all category that included school funding, charter schools and choice.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

Click on graphic to enlarge.

“There were these two judges who just consistently marked us down,” said Ritter, whose irritation was evident. “We’d be in the money if we’d had just judges one, two and five.”

The governor said he talked Tuesday morning to Education Secretary Arne Duncan and vented his frustrations. Asked what reply Duncan made, Ritter said, “He listened a lot.”

Duncan, in a press conference call with reporters, said he was “very, very sorry” not to be able to fund Colorado’s bid but that the money simply ran out.

“Colorado has been, and will continue to be, a national leader in driving reform,” Duncan said. “I think the country has a lot to learn from Colorado moving forward … with more resources, we would love to have been able to put money behind Colorado’s effort.”

He also said “geography was irrelevant” to the list of winners put together by teams of peer reviewers, and that he chose not to deviate from their final list.

Massachusetts scored highest with 471 points. Of the winners, Ohio had the lowest at 440.8.

Monetary awards ranged from $75 million each for Rhode Island and the District of Columbia to up to $700 million for New York and for Florida.

State officials had hoped that Colorado’s new effectiveness law, which requires at least 50 percent of educator effectiveness be based on student growth and which will change the rules for teachers to gain and keep tenure, would improve Colorado’s chances in round two. The state also finished near the bottom of round one finalists.

Local reactions

“The fiscal condition of the state and school districts makes it difficult to implement new standards, write new assessments, and provide support for teachers and principals in turnaround schools.”
CEA President Beverly Ingle

“Hate to say I told you so, but…I told you so!!!!”
State Rep. Michael Merrifield

“Now that we’ve lost Race to the Top, it’s time to repeal SB191, the teacher evaluation bill. It served no purpose.”
Andrea Merida, DPS board

Finalists met in person with reviewers two weeks ago. Jones said at the time that reviewers seemed to like and understand Colorado’s reform plan, and that questions focused on Colorado’s ability to actually implement those reforms (see story).

But Jones told EdNews Tuesday that he sensed during the interview that two of the reviewers seemed skeptical about parts of the state’s application.

O’Brien noted during the news conference that more than half the questions asked during the Aug. 10 interview concerned implementation and local control.

All the finalists except Rhode Island improved their scores based on the interviews. Colorado moved from 408 points to the final 420.2.

Lack of federal funding is likely to extend the implementation timetable for Colorado reform programs further into the future, to 2015 or beyond, given that the tight state budget situation will make it difficult to find extra funds for the projects outlined in the R2T application.

The key elements of the state’s reform program include the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which required improved content standards, testing and alignment of grades; a new district and school accountability and improvement system passed in 2009 and just now rolling out; and the educator effectiveness law passed last spring. Other initiatives include a dropout prevention program, expanded opportunities for dual enrollment in high school and college, and increased funding for preschool and full-day kindergarten.

“There’s not a better place in American to launch reform,” Ritter said of Colorado.

Jones said he still feels Colorado can meet the 2014 and 2015 timelines contained in recent state reform legislation. He said R2T funds could have speeded some things up.

“I think we can stay on schedule,” Jones said, but he added that “some tough conversations” will have to take place around how to do that.

Despite the criticism of the scoring, Jones said, “We will go through this (the evaluation) again and again” to see what can be learned.

Along with Colorado, the losing states included Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Thirty-six states applied for round two.

Total requests came to $6.2 billion. Some $3.2 billion was awarded.

Delaware and Tennessee were the only two round one winners; the other 14 finalists in that round made the cut in round two.

There were different tiers of possible award amounts based on state populations. Colorado asked for $377 million in the first round, during which tier limitations did not apply.

Details of Colorado’s application

The state’s 193-page application for $175 million pitched Colorado’s history of education reform measures.

National reactions

“ …the Department of Education shocks the known world by announcing that Louisiana and Colorado both came up short in Race to the Top, outdone by such reform stalwarts as Maryland (ha!) and Hawaii (guffaw!)…”
Mike Petrilli, Flypaper

“The big news of the day is that CO & LA didn’t win…Both were great applications, both strong on accountability and choice. Both suffered from union opposition.”
Tom Vander Ark, Ed Reformer

“This list is causing some raised eyebrows already. Keep an eye out for questions about LA and CO and the relative strengths of their apps…”
Andrew Rotherham, Eduwonk

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

The department 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 Colorado Education Association participated in round one but boycotted round two because of concerns about the educator effectiveness law. The Colorado unit of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents primarily the Douglas County Schools, signed on to round two.

Colorado’s application promised, by 2014, 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 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 proposed to spend the $175 million:

  • $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 to 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 for 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 to others.
  • $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 numbers of national board certified teachers and hiring of Teach for America members.
  • $4.3 million – Expansion of the department’s School Leadership Academy, including a Turnaround Leaders Academy.
  • $3.2 million – Expansion of the number of students who take Advanced Placement classes 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.