The race is on and teachers are front and center

The Ohio Education Gadfly Team

Ohio and the other states competing for Race to the Top dollars have until June 1 to submit second-round applications. The Buckeye State has little time (exactly a month) to chart a new direction and improve its proposal before districts and charter schools must agree to it. We all want Ohio to win, but win because we are a state committed to significant reform and educational improvement. For a shot at Race to the Top success, the drafters of Ohio’s application version 2.0 will need to: 

  • Address the state’s round-one areas of weakness directly;
  • Pay particular attention to the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section;
  • Be aware that other states are moving quickly to improve substantive areas of their applications; and
  • Not assume that Ohio will earn all of its round-one points in round two.

Address the state’s round-one areas of weakness directly. 

This will demonstrate to reviewers and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the state has taken the constructive criticism from the first round seriously. Ohio is not only competing with the 13 other finalists from round one, but also with dozens of other states that missed the first cut and are hungry to win – and whose relative rank among the pack is unknown.

In yesterday’s Dayton Daily News we shared three issues the state needs to tackle for improving Ohio’s chances in round two:

  1. Get more buy-in from the districts and teachers’ unions;
  2. Show bipartisan support for the state’s application; and
  3. Improve the overall quality of Ohio’s proposal.

The third point is the most critical of the three moving forward. Specifically, external reviewer comments and points awarded on Ohio’s round-one application provide guidance as to where we could gain significant points for round two:

  • Ensuring a more equitable distribution of teachers in high-need schools and in high-need areas, improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs, and several sub-strands in “Great Teachers & Leaders” (a total of 35 points);
  • Drafting a more credible proposal for turning around Ohio’s lowest-performing schools – which is contingent on a human capital pipeline of strong leaders and teachers (7 points); and
  • Ensuring successful conditions for charter schools (6 points).

These proposal areas are ones that state leaders have some degree of immediate control over. Demonstrating success at closing proficiency gaps between demographic subgroups or implementing comprehensive longitudinal data system are also important areas to improve, but neither can be accomplished before June 1 so no new points can be had here.

Pay particular attention to the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section. 

Ohio scored second to last of the 16 finalists on this section and stands to garner up to 35 points (seven percent of the application’s total value) by improving it. This isn’t the only way to earn points, of course, but it is certainly the area with the most room for improvement.  Any strategy to make Ohio more competitive should put a heavy emphasis on “Great Teachers and Leaders.”

Table 1 contrasts the types of bold reforms embodied in the winning states’ “Great Teachers and Leaders” sections, as well as reforms from the two other states that ranked highest in this area, with Ohio’s round-one teachers and leaders proposals.

Sources: The New Teacher Project’s The Real Race Begins”; Politics K-12 blog on Education Week; reviewer feedback at ed.gov

Ohio clearly falls short when contrasted with the boldest states in the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section. While the state’s round-one application presented bold language in this domain, its major flaw is that the plans for improving teacher effectiveness are only promises, and most have no teeth.

For example, though the Buckeye State wrote in its application that it plans to create a performance-based evaluation system, revamp how tenure decisions are made, and change the teacher compensation system, such plans seem more notional than real – especially considering that the “optional clause” for districts appeared throughout Ohio’s application. In other words, these proposals don’t match the commitments made by Tennessee, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Louisiana.

Consider also, both Washington, DC and New York City are negotiating with their teacher unions to move beyond seniority and credentials as the prime measures of teacher quality. Certainly this will strengthen DC’s round-two application, especially as this provision has the support of the DC teachers union. As for New York, its second round application is not likely to be competitive in “Great Teachers and Leaders” unless it uses the New York City’s contract reforms as a model for the rest of the state. All of this activity is evidence of the seriousness and speed at which states and districts are working to reinvent the teaching profession.

Other states are also moving quickly to improve substantive areas of their applications.

States like Florida, Minnesota, and Kentucky will be states against which reviewers will compare Ohio. If Ohio doesn’t improve its application and essentially submits the same package of reforms, it isn’t a stretch to think that reviewers and Sec. Duncan might push back on the Buckeye State and ask, “If other states were able to make bold changes, why didn’t you?” 

House Bill 1, the centerpiece of Ohio’s Race to the Top application, moved teacher tenure decisions to the seventh year of a teacher’s career.  This is a commendable reform.  But the bill was passed prior to the July 2009 Race to the Top announcement, and pales in comparison to what other states are trying to do now. 

Education leaders in Kentucky, which finished just ahead of Ohio in round one, say they will need to earn 30 or 40 more points in round two just be competitive.  In response, the Bluegrass State – one of just a handful without charter schools – saw its state senate pass a charter bill in order to have a better shot at Race to the Top. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed that teachers reapply for tenure every five years, among other reforms.

Just last week, Florida’s legislature passed a bill that overhauls the state’s current teacher evaluation and compensation system, eliminating tenure and the practice of paying teachers for college degrees and years of service. 

Instead, if Governor Crist signs the bill into law, teacher pay would be largely tied to student academic progress, teachers would be evaluated more regularly, and the state would create a dedicated pool of money to help provide pay increases for teachers in high-need schools and subjects and for highly effective teachers.  (The ineffective distribution of the state’s best teachers to its neediest schools cost Ohio 10 points in round one.) Table 2 compares Florida’s Senate Bill 6 with the teaching reforms included in Ohio’s budget bill last summer and its Race to the Top application. 

Sources: Florida’s Senate Bill 6 and Ohio’s House Bill 1

Don’t assume that Ohio will earn all of its round-one points again in round two.

There are particular areas, like charter schools and school turnarounds, which have been emphasized publicly as areas where reviewers overlooked obvious application weaknesses or made other errors. In Ohio’s application, for example, reviewers commented that Ohio had 152 operational charter schools receiving funds equal to district schools.  In truth, Ohio has more than 320 charters currently operating and they receive about a third less funding than their district peers.

Further, there is no guarantee that the second round review process will be the same, or that the reviewers themselves will be the same. Many in the education reform world have observed several problems with first-round scoring, namely that reviewers didn’t adhere to scoring guidance, or that scores were inflated or influenced too much by outliers. Ohio should expect the US Department of Education to take note of these criticisms and to strengthen the round-two scoring processes.

With a tenth-place finish in round one, Ohio is in a relatively strong position heading into Race to the Top’s round two. To better its odds of winning $200-400 million in the competition, Ohio’s education leaders must take seriously the feedback and low scores it received in round one and address major areas of weakness, especially in the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section. Teacher provisions in other states should serve as models for where the Buckeye State should go.  Further, Ohio must not rest on its laurels and assume it will receive equal points heading into round two, especially as other states are moving swiftly into action.

by the Ohio Education Gadfly team