Race to the Top: Did the $400 million federal grant pay off for Georgia?

Many posters on this blog have been skeptical of Race to the Top, the $400 million federal education grant won under Gov. Sonny Perdue’s leadership.

Georgia earned the grant by promising ambitious and far-reaching goals, including the reform of standards, assessments, data systems, teacher effectiveness systems, certification, educator preparation programs, professional learning and low achieving schools.

One of the great successes of Sonny Perdue's time in office was winning a $400 million federal Race to the Top Grant. (AJC File)

One of the great successes of Sonny Perdue’s time in office was winning a $400 million federal Race to the Top Grant. (AJC File)

Critics contend the grant was too ambitious, citing the bumpy roll-out of new teacher evaluations and the challenges in rating the 70 percent of state teachers in courses without state exams.

For those teachers, Georgia is allowing districts to create alternative measures of student proficiency — SLOs or student learning objectives.

One problem is the disparity in the expectations of SLOs; a Spanish teacher in one district could be judged on much more demanding standards than in a neighboring district.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education released a report today on the accomplishments of Race to the Top, and the 50-page report notes many benefits. The Georgia Department of Education asked the Partnership to conduct the review.

As Susan C. Andrews, DOE’s deputy superintendent for Race to the Top, explains: “The purpose of this report is to answer the question that has been asked consistently, ‘When it’s all over, what will we have to show for it? Those who have worked diligently to fulfill the vision of the authors of the grant and the obligations of the scope of work described in the grant desperately wanted to answer this question for you. We did not want to seem disingenuous by describing the results of our own work, so we engaged the support of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, an organization that has broad credibility with many stakeholders.”

Georgia Partnership President Steve Dolinger said, “Georgia is moving forward, but we have to take advantage of this momentum if we hope to make lasting improvements and remain competitive in the global marketplace. It is my belief because of this effort, Georgia is well positioned to undertake new and innovative ways to improve teaching and learning.”

Among the comments and findings in the report:

  • Some of the biggest challenges in implementing the RT3 grant were the sheer scale and scope of the project. Regarding scale, in some cases, Georgia was challenged to saturate the entire state (not just RT3 districts) with large-scale policy changes. Bringing even one major policy change to life can be a formidable task for an administration. Matters of scope compounded scale hurdles, as a confluence of reform pieces required statewide coordination at once. While most of the elements of reforms were already under development or being planned in some way when Georgia applied for the grant, developing and implementing all aspects of the grant at the same time proved to be a challenge.
  • Timing also emerged as a challenge. Leadership (both at the state and local level) has a significant impact in being able to develop and implement systematic change. When awarded in 2010, the RT3 grant supported the strong – and complex – vision that was already in progress under the leadership of then Gov. Sonny Perdue and State School Superintendent Kathy Cox. However, in 2010, Georgia elected a new governor – Nathan Deal – and a new state school superintendent – John Barge, neither was involved in creating this vision for Georgia. Due to these leadership changes at the state level, the bulk of the required implementation staff was not hired until late spring of 2011, despite year-one grant commitments beginning in 2010.
  • One of the key lessons learned during this process was the importance of communication. Many teachers and school and district leaders initially did not understand the relevance of the individual reforms or how they all fit together. Initial frustration was high especially in the classroom, where all individual projects came together. In response to districts’ frustrations, made clear by ongoing grant evaluation, the state changed its communication and training strategy and began to communicate the full vision whenever addressing a particular section
  • The development and implementation of the SLOs have proven to be one of the more challenging tasks undertaken within the RT3 scope of work. In general, educators at all levels are supportive of the SLOs and the goal of having growth measures for non-tested subjects. However, concern over their validity and reliability is widespread. There is also shared concern about how to achieve comparability of rigor and standards across districts.
  • District leaders have reported not fully understanding the approval process of the growth targets and confusion over the level of necessary rigor. Teachers’ concerns have centered on the SLO development process, feeling they do not have the right skills to be developing high-stakes assessments. Assessment professionals and psychometricians, people who are skilled in measurement, developed the statewide assessments for tested subjects with high levels of rigor by piloting test items and aligning with standards. With many teachers and instructional specialists developing their own SLOs, by contrast, consistency in how teachers of tested and non-tested subjects are to be evaluated is being questioned.
  • The creation of transparent, fair, and rigorous teacher and leader evaluation systems based on student growth models is a key accomplishment of Georgia’s RT3 grant. Based on these assessments, the state has done a considerable amount of work to strengthen the teacher and leader pipeline and focus on the equitable distribution of teachers across the state.
  • The implementation of the new effectiveness systems is on track but has faced some obstacles. While GaDOE has provided resources for local districts, the development and implementation of the student learning objectives – the SLOs – presents a substantial challenge. GaDOE has provided test banks, resource libraries, and administrative guidance to districts. But, considering the number of teachers and courses covered by SLOs, developing and implementing valid and reliable indicators with realistic – yet rigorous growth projections across all of those domains is daunting. This is especially important considering that personnel decisions will be based on the implementation of these indicators.
  • The overall capacity of the state and districts to implement the new systems is also a challenge. GaDOE has requested a no-cost extension for the RT3 grant, which will allow for additional personnel to train and support school districts. In order to ensure fidelity of training and implementation, GaDOE has increased the number of statewide trainers and has established collaborative partnerships with the RESAs.

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
BG927
BG927

Jerry, my question was kind of rhetorical - I know that $400 million isn't really that much in the scheme of things.  I guess my point was that we sold our soul for a sum of money that couldn't help budgets, but did add another layer of bureaucracy - and who's going to pay for that bureaucracy when the RTTT $$ runs out?  We already have enough unfunded mandates; we don't need more.


LOL on the SOLs and the SLOs - and CCRPI can be pronounced "crappy!"

jerryeads
jerryeads

$400m seems like a pretty big chunk of change, but it's only about 5% of just one year's state education budget. Given that the state snatched well over $8b from the schools (the so-called "austerity" cuts) since the governor's office changed hands in 2002, even if every cent of the $400m went to the classroom it wouldn't even have begun to touch the reductions. Figure every cent of the grant could have paid for maybe 2,000 teachers for four years. There were 110,429 public school teachers in 2012 - a THOUSAND FEWER than the year before, by the way, although enrollment increased by about 5,500 during that period. Point is that whether or not the grant has actually changed anything for the better from a practice standpoint, that same amount would have done very little to offset Republican plundering of the school budget. It remains the state's responsibility to provide a decent education to our kids, not the fed's.

We'll never know whether a difference in our backwoods political persuasions would have brought us up from close to dead last in national test comparisons, but it would be reasonable to conclude that the Republicans have done a superb job of keeping us there. The voting public seems bound and determined to make sure that doesn't change.

I can't resist picking on the state for its acronyms. Back when I worked with and for a time ran state testing in Virginia they, no kidding, called their objectives the Standards of Learning, or SOL. Many of you will remember what that actually stands for and, as you might imagine, the state folks had little sense of humor about it. They were in the beginning, indeed, SOL. In modern times our own state has decided, no doubt with about the same level of humor (none) to call its standards Student Learning Objectives, or SLOs. Really? We ARE slow (at least in national comparisons), but do we really have to brag about it? You'd think somebody in those places would have at least a modicum of marketing sense.

BG927
BG927

I wonder how much (or how little) of that $400 million actually made it to teachers and students in the classroom.  At the same time we received the RTTT money, districts were cutting school years short and shoving kids into classrooms like sardines.  Like the line in Ocean's 11: "What happened to all that money?"

HowdyJune
HowdyJune

Given the recent test score results, it looks to me like this has been a race to the bottom.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Much ado about very little of substance.  Give it a few years and it will circle the drain while the next "new thing" ascends to the heavens.

EdUktr
EdUktr

Parents and taxpayers want more accountability; the education establishment and this newspaper column do not, but strive to artfully conceal that fact.

MD3
MD3

@EdUktr Wow. Never would have pegged you as an Obama cheerleader... Will you be voting for Hillary in '16?

MD3
MD3

@EdUktr @MD3 I don't hate him at all. I just think that, through his Sec. of Ed., he violated federal law with regards to influencing the direction and policies of school curriculum and assessments. Pretty cut & dried actually. Some of his other ideas have been good, some have been bad. But hate is not something I know. Carry on, now.

Starik
Starik

We need to rethink the way we do public education in this country.  We need to provide separate schools for groups of kids that need different kinds of education.  Academics are not for everybody.  To be fair we need to make it simple to move from one group to another, up and down. 

redweather
redweather

"One of the key lessons learned during this process was the importance of communication."


Including this statement in the report makes me wonder about everything else.  How could anyone fail to know that communication is important?

tinala
tinala

To eliminate all of this mess, send your children to private school and you want have to be bothered with what the Governor or the State Superintendent has mandated with their schools. My husband said even if he had to take another job, we want send our children to public school and I concur, I will take a second job as well. That includes college as well.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@tinala 

Do you mean that you won't send your children to public universities, but only private ones? If you have more than one child, that second job of yours had better be a high-paying one.

Raja44
Raja44

@EdUktr  I'm not sure if all of the Race to the Top stuff is hurting or helping education in Georgia, but isn't the general gist of it that it does try to bring more accountability to the system  -- introducing evaluations and assessments of teachers and schools based upon their performances and levels of improvement on standardized tests.  Isn't that what you want, EdUktr??

nickeldime
nickeldime

If the money only resulted in more assessments/evaluations students/teachers had to complete that is not much benefit to Georgia education overall. Hopefully the state leadership learned something from the process at least.

Astropig
Astropig

@MD3


Agreed. Well stated. It should also be noted that one of the board members of the Georgia Partnership  is one Dr. John Barge, currently the state school superintendent. His department commissioned this report,so I'm not shocked that it says what he would want it to say.His leaving is simply addition by means of subtraction.The rest of the companies in that group do a LOT of business with Uncle Sam,so I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that they like federal bribes just fine

Raja44
Raja44

@Astropig  I'm not sure if all of the Race to the Top stuff is hurting or helping education in Georgia, but isn't the general gist of it that it does try to bring more accountability to the system  -- introducing evaluations and assessments of teachers and schools based upon their performances and levels of improvement on standardized tests.  Isn't that what you want, Astropig??

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

Well if they had $200 million more federal dollars, they could have built a website.  Maybe not a secure website, but a website.

MD3
MD3

Whatever the outcome may end up being (and there will likely be no true way to ever determine actual success due to so many variables outside the educational system), the fact is that Sonny Perdue and Kathy Cox sold Georgia's educational soul to the federal devil. Constitutionally, education is a matter for the states. Perdue and Cox gleefully ceded control of Georgia's educational system for a bribe from Obama and Duncan. Their actions were shameful. It's even more shameful that they were never taken to task for abdicating their responsibility to the citizens of Georgia, while selling out to Obama.

Starik
Starik

@MD3 Considering that public schools were unknown at the time the Constitution was written, where does it say that?

MD3
MD3

@Starik @MD3 From the Cato Institute: "Education is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, and for good reason. The Founders wanted most aspects of life managed by those who were closest to them, either by state or local government or by families, businesses, and other elements of civil society. Certainly, they saw no role for the federal government in education."


From the Georgia Constitution: "The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia."


Authority over education is not granted the federal government. From the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is, you know, THE LAW!!!!: "Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school's specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction, as a condition of eligibility to receive funds under this Act."


Obama and Duncan clearly disregarded THE LAW and Perdue and Cox gladly allowed them to do so. Any attempt to spin RTTT as anything other than an illegal bribe is futile, because facts are facts.