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Washington Co. ahead on some of Obama's new education reforms

May 22, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

o Teachers union against Race to the Top application

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Race to the Top, President Obama's education reform initiative, will mean changes for students and teachers, but Maryland and the county school system already have a head start on some of the initiative's goals, officials said last week.

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion federal grant program that requires states that want to participate, and receive some of that money, to apply by June 1, according to the initiative.

Race to the Top is the next generation of reform, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth M. Morgan said.

Any business or organization that wants to remain viable and continue to serve the public well has to periodically look at ways to improve, and education is no exception, she said.

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"I realize there might be some aspects that represent a change. But I think as anybody knows and goes to work in any kind of workplace today, change is part of our culture," Morgan said. "We are a country of always doing better and always trying to improve."

A quick look

According to the U.S. Department of Education's website, Race to the Top is calling on states to make education reforms in four areas.

o Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.

o Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.

o Recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.

o Turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

Two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were approved to receive about $600 million in grants from the first phase of applications. There is $3.4 billion left for those accepted from the second round of state applications, which are due June 1, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

If Maryland's application is approved, Washington County Public Schools could receive $2.8 million in Race to the Top grant money over a four-year period, according to draft estimates from the Maryland Department of Education.

The federal education department has until Sept. 30 to set aside the money for the states, which then will have four years to implement their plans and spend the grant money, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Maryland's plan

A draft of Maryland's reform plan and grant proposal for Race to the Top calls for:

o Revising the state curriculum prekindergarten to 12th grade assessments and accountability system based on the Common Core Standards to assure that all graduates are college and career ready.

o Building a statewide technology infrastructure that links all data elements with analytic and instructional tools to monitor and promote student achievement.

o Redesigning the model for preparation, development, retention and evaluation of teachers and principals.

o Fully implementing the innovative Breakthrough Center approach for transforming low-achieving schools and districts.

Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education, said the state expects to submit its application to Race to the Top a day or two before the June 1 deadline.

Some of the specific goals already have been met or will be pursued whether or not the state gets a Race to the Top grant, Reinhard said.

One state goal is to ensure each graduate has taken four years of high school-level math, including Algebra II. Morgan said most school system graduates have taken Algebra II, but it is not a requirement.

Donna Hanlin, Washington County's assistant superintendent for secondary education, said 87 percent of the school system's 2009 graduates took Algebra II.

Another goal is to tie growth in student achievement to teacher and principal evaluations, Reinhard said. Maryland legislators passed legislation during the General Assembly session that ended in April that will make that happen with the coming school year, he said.

But getting the grant money will help the state achieve its education reform plan more quickly, Reinhard said.

Changes on the horizon

Revising curriculum and assessment tests will take time, so they aren't expected to change for the coming school year, Reinhard said.

State officials expect to make no changes in graduation requirements, tied to Race to the Top, that would take effect before the incoming freshmen class for the 2011-12 school year, Reinhard said.

The Maryland State Board of Education is to review a draft of Common Core Standards as part of its curriculum reform on Tuesday, Reinhard said.

The curriculum is likely to be more stringent as State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick has said she's not interested in making changes that don't increase the standards, Reinhard said.

The Common Core Standards are being developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, he said. The standards are to be voted on by each state.

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