Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let the "Race to the Top" begin

Governor Doyle has not been shy about his desire to see the mayor of Milwaukee governing the Milwaukee Public School (MPS) district as part of an effort to make Wisconsin more competitive for new federal K-12 education dollars. The dollars at stake, called the "Race to the Top Fund," will not automatically go to every state, but will be disbursed to selected states based on their promise to fulfill certain criteria.

While the desirability of chasing after these funds has been controversial in Wisconsin, we're not the only ones debating major education reform policies as a result of the Race to the Top challenge. This week's Education Week highlights some of the policies being considered in other states:

  • Several states are responding with policies that would tie teacher pay to student performance. Maine's governor has proposed allowing student achievement data to be considered in teacher evaluations, as have Michigan's and Tennessee's governors.

  • Many states are focusing on increasing the number of charter schools, or in the case of Alabama, enabling charter school operations for the first time.

  • The strategy that seems to be garnering the most attention from the states is "turning around" low-performing schools via state intervention. In Michigan, a newly signed law allows the state to take over low-performing schools or districts and place them under the direction of a "reform officer." In New York, proposed legislation also empowers the state to intervene in the lowest-performing schools, by authorizing new management under private educational management organizations. Tennessee's governor has proposed allowing the state to take over "chronically" underperforming schools.
The Obama administration has promised to provide states who miss out on the first round of funds with enough guidance to allow them to resubmit stronger proposals in the second round. With Governor Doyle's announcement last week that Wisconsin's application will not include a proposed mayoral takeover of MPS, optimism among education policy wonks about our chances at first-round funding has waned. If the successful first-round state applications are those with state-led school turn-around plans, might the debate in Wisconsin shift from, "Should the mayor be running MPS?" to "Should the state be running MPS?"

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