Billions at stake for education
May 2009 marked the announcement of two winners of the national Race to the Top Funding program. Phase I of this landmark program is complete with Delaware and Tennessee each collecting large portions of the $4.35 billion earmarked for education from the Obama administration’s stimulus package. The program’s 49-member review panel included PSU Professor Tom Chenoweth from the Graduate School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Peer reviewers were selected from distinguished educators, policy makers and scholars throughout the nation and have been quietly working on the high-profile school reform initiative since January.
Dr. Chenoweth applied to the panel last summer and was chosen from over 1,500 candidates nationwide. He was the only person from Oregon to serve on the panel. He teaches in the Graduate School of Education’s Administrative Licensure and the Doctoral Programs. The screening and review process was exceptionally rigorous, but Dr. Chenoweth says it was well worth it. “It was the most transparent process I’ve ever been involved in,” says Dr. Chenoweth. “The ideas from these applications inform my teaching [at PSU] and I know where we are headed as a country.” He remarked that he is glad he had the opportunity to meet colleagues of exceptional caliber on the peer review committee and gain a new perspective on his work. “I was excited to participate in something that had national impact,” he said.
Dr. Chenoweth was well-suited to the task. He received his doctorate from Stanford University and is a former public school teacher and principal. His primary interests lie in the areas of school leadership, teacher supervision and evaluation, and school change. He was a teacher leader in San Francisco’s alternative/magnate schools movement and is one of the cofounders of the acclaimed Rooftop School. He also served as a satellite center director, university mentor, and a national policy board member for Henry Levin’s Accelerated Schools Project that reached over 1,500 schools across the nation. He is the coauthor, with Robert B. Everhart, of the well-received book Navigating Comprehensive School Change: A Guide for the Perplexed (2002). As part of his community outreach, he coaches teachers and staff at Rosemary Anderson High School, an inner-city alternative high school in North Portland.
The Race to the Top Funding program spawned a mad dash among states to lobby and pass laws, and rapidly implement new programs in order to bolster their applications. Forty-one states applied, including Oregon, which placed 34th. Colorado was the only state west of the Mississippi river to make it into the final 16.
The $4.35 billion was the single largest investment in educational reform ever made by the federal government and represents a huge change in the approach for distributing federal dollars. “They’re trying to give the money to reward innovative ideas,” says Dr. Chenoweth. “It’s more competitive, but also more positive. It’s turning educational funding on its head. The hope is that states would look at the winners and see how they did it.”
How were state applications evaluated?
A 500-point rating system was established and applications were evaluated on five central criteria:
- State success factors—States needed to have a strong commitment of support from all stakeholders and state leaders. Governors and top state officials needed to be on board, as well as legislators, school districts and teacher unions.
- Standards and assessments—States scored higher if they based assessments on regional or national standards rather than state or local standards.
- Data systems supporting assessment—Sophisticated data systems currently in place in some states help teachers in classrooms with real-time data enabling them to adjust lessons accordingly.
- Great teachers and leaders—States that had innovative ways to train and license teachers scored higher, as did states with annual teacher evaluations linked to student achievement and growth.
- Turning around low-achieving schools—States needed to have a rigorous plan in place to assist and reform struggling schools.
All of the Race to the Top applications are available for review on the USDE website along with comments from the peer review committee and the videos of the 16 finalists’ presentations. Many states now have the opportunity to view the successful applications and will revise their proposals to apply for Phase II, which still has $3.4 billion in funds available.
Highlights from the winners
- Under a new law, half of teachers’ evaluations will be based on student growth
- Data system for tracking student growth
- Districts, along with organizations such as Teach For America, would be able to license teachers
- State education secretary now has veto power over turnaround plans for low-performing schools
- Proposed “data coaches” to work with teachers
To view all Race to the Top applications and videos, go to the US Department of Education website.