On Tuesday, August 24, Governor Deval Patrick announced that Massachusetts is one of ten states selected to receive federal Race to the Top funds. The state, which earned the highest score in the second phase of the national contest, will receive $250 million over four years to implement ambitious education reforms including turning around underperforming schools, bolstering the educator workforce, and closing the achievement gap in Massachusetts.
Race to the Top, President Obama’s landmark federal education reform program, has awarded a record $4 billion to states that have proposed the boldest reforms in four areas emphasized by the Education Department: standards and assessments that prepare students for college and work, data systems that measure student growth and guide educators, recruitment and retention of effective teachers and principals, and plans to turn around the lowest-achieving schools. Accordingly, states vying for grants developed extensive proposals, often with assistance from consultants funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, documenting new policies and laws overhauling their public school systems and demonstrating support for those reforms from state educators and leaders.
The record amount of federal education funding was awarded in two phases. Delaware and Tennessee beat out forty states and the District of Columbia in the first round announced in March of 2010, and ten states received funds in the second round announced last week: the District of Columbia (treated as a state for the contest), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.
The focal point of the Massachusetts proposal is the Governor’s Achievement Gap Act of 2010, which outlines policies and resources aimed at improving the education of the state’s lowest-performing students. In a statement quoted on his official website, Governor Patrick said, “Although our kids top the nation in student achievement, these resources will help us reach those we have not reached, the kids stuck in the achievement gap.”
Some of those resources will go toward developing a specialized corps of teachers and administrators to turn around failing schools, including new monetary and non-monetary incentives for teachers in high need subjects and schools. In focusing on turnaround schools, the Massachusetts proposal also calls for new structures like expanded school day and/or year and data-based instruction to accelerate student performance. Additionally, to ensure that students succeed in life and the national/global economies, the state intends to improve college and career readiness of high school grads by expanding rigorous curricula and instruction in low income, high minority schools. Other reforms outlined in the state’s application included a digital library of curriculum resources, more extensive and accessible student data systems, and community partnerships to support low-achieving students and schools.
With 275 Massachusetts communities and schools affected by the state’s award, representing 74 percent of K-12 students and 88 percent of low income students in the state, most education leaders couldn’t be happier. Despite some inevitable disagreements among those competing for funds, the unprecedented federal grant will undoubtedly benefit the most relevant stakeholders, the students in Massachusetts and other states receiving funds.
(Most of the information used in this article can be found at the Official Website of the Governor of Massachusetts and related news articles.)