Massachusetts named Race to the Top Finalist

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan today picked Massachusetts as one of 19 finalists to compete in the interview portion of the Race to the Top Round Two competition. That means each state will assemble a group of five people to come to Washington the week of August 9 to make their final appeals for a portion of the $3.4 billion in federal money still remaining.

The finalists, which beat out 17 other states that applied in the second round, are: Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

The winners will be announced in late August or early September and will share the remaining Race to the Top funding provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The MTA’s Board of Directors voted on May 24 to support the state’s Round Two Race to the Top application and to communicate that support to the organization’s local association presidents. Below is a statement by MTA President Paul Toner in response to Massachusetts being picked as a finalist.

We are pleased that Massachusetts has been named a finalist for receiving a Race to the Top grant and are hopeful that the state will be named one of the recipients this fall. We believe that the Massachusetts application contains several provisions that address the needs of students in our lowest-performing schools. These include new teacher-developed curriculum and instruction resources, more professional development offerings through Readiness Centers, incentives to encourage experienced teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools, more training for supervisors in how to conduct effective evaluations, more wraparound social services for students in underperforming schools and additional funding to participating districts to implement the changes.

On Common Core Standards: We were neutral on the Common Core standards until they had been evaluated by content area experts. That analysis has now been done. Most experts believe the Common Core standards are as good as or better than the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. We therefore support the vote of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to adopt the standards with the understanding that they will be supplemented with additional state standards, as needed, to ensure that Massachusetts students continue to be held to the highest levels of academic achievement.

On Educator Evaluations: We believe that the educator evaluation system does need an overhaul. The biggest complaints that educators have about the current system are that evaluations often are not done well, or not done at all, and the results are too rarely used to develop effective improvement plans. We support changes calling for more training for evaluators, more oversight to make sure evaluations are done as required and a focus on using evaluations to improve instruction. We support using multiple measures of student achievement as one way to help determine teacher effectiveness. We oppose using student test-score data to make high-stakes decisions about teachers since there are many social, emotional, cognitive and environmental factors – in addition to teacher effectiveness – that contribute to a student’s achievement. We believe that the Massachusetts proposal recognizes the limitations of over-reliance on such test-score data. If it is implemented properly, a new evaluation system as proposed in the state’s RTTT application could be beneficial.

Mass. DESE announcement. (Includes link to state's application.)