District limbers up for stronger Race to Top
D.C. officials are pushing hard to meet the June 1 application deadline for their second shot at the Obama administration's Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition. A team led by Eric Lerum, chief of staff to deputy mayor for education Victor Reinoso, has been working to shore up the weaknesses that landed the District's round one application in last place among 16 finalists, with 402.6 out of a possible 500 points. Only Delaware and Tennessee made the first cut.
A maximum of $75 million is available in this round, and D.C.'s prospects are fairly bright, principally because Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that the next group of winners will be much larger, as many as 10 to 15.
One weak spot that is likely to remain is the District's failure to secure the endorsement of the Washington Teachers' Union. President George Parker said he could not sign on to the application because of his opposition to DCPS' new IMPACT evaluation system for teachers. Under IMPACT, introduced last fall, standardized test scores will comprise 50 percent of the evaluations this year for reading and math teachers in grades 4 through 8. Those who fail to meet minimum scores could be fired. Race to the Top places huge weight on such evaluation instruments.
Officials are trying to plug other holes. One area in which the District's application fell short was in articulating a vision for STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) education. Lerum told the D.C. State Board of Education Wednesday that the District had enlisted the help of Battelle, an Ohio firm that helped the state set up its STEM Learning Network. Another problem for the District is its troubled education data warehouse effort, which has been thrown behind schedule by problems with a contractor that had to be fired last year. The first-round application conceded that the District data system's "current functionality is limited," but Lerum said a closer look shows that officials may have been "conservative" in their assessment.
The revised application is also expected to go a little easier on the overcooked rhetoric that may have rubbed program evaluators the wrong way. The original document said an RTTT grant would be "a political win" for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and the District, ensuring "that its cutting edge human capital work can be accelerated and become a national model."
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May 20, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
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