Curtis Whatley is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Here’s what educators, advocates, wonks and policymakers are talking about today:

News & analysis

Sluggish pace for Race to the Top spending
Almost two years into the federal Race to the Top program, states are spending their shares of the $4 billion prize at a snail’s pace—a reflection of the challenges the 12 winners face as they try to get ambitious education improvement plans off the ground. Through the end of March, the 11 states and the District of Columbia had spent just 14 percent of their Race to the Top money, with New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii spending the least as the midpoint of the four-year grants approaches, an Education Week analysis of federal spending reports shows. And so far, the reports show, the bulk of the early money that states have spent outside their own education departments—which are still reeling from severe budget cuts prompted by the recession—has gone to consultants. The U.S. Department of Education was concerned enough about slow spending that it highlighted the problem in its first annual report on the Race to the Top, which was released in January. Florida, for example, was criticized for yearlong delays in hiring contractors to execute its Race to the Top work. But Ann Whalen, the Education Department’s director of policy and implementation, said Florida and other states are picking up momentum. “Across all of the states, there are ongoing challenges with state procurement processes and with finding the right talent to fill positions,” Ms. Whalen said. “In terms of actually meeting deliverables and being on track with ultimate outcomes, we’re not worried.” (Ed Week)

Romney offers policy details at closed-door fundraiser
Mitt Romney went well beyond his standard stump speech at a closed-door fundraiser on Sunday evening, and offered some of the most specific details to date about the policies he would pursue if elected. Romney went into a level of detail not usually seen by the public in the speech, which was overheard by reporters on a sidewalk below. One possibility floated by Romney included the elimination of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Cabinet-level agency once led by Romney’s father, George. Asked about the fate of the Department of Education in a potential Romney administration, the former governor suggested it would also face a dramatic restructuring. “The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I’m not going to get rid of it entirely,” Romney said, explaining that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was to maintain a federal role in pushing back against teachers’ unions. Romney added that he learned in his 1994 campaign for Senate that proposing to eliminate the agency was politically volatile. (MSNBC)

Maryland: City schools with federal turnaround grants have mixed results
Once students hurled computers out the windows at Calverton Middle School, but today they are learning on state-of-the-art technology that has flooded into the West Baltimore school. Once teachers couldn’t wait to transfer out of a place where students ruled the classrooms, but now faculty turnover has slowed. Calverton is among seven Baltimore schools benefiting from a $3 billion federal program that is focused on the worst of the nation’s schools. And though it is far too early to declare the effort a success — at Calverton or the other city schools — some improvements are clear. “I feel more safe and I feel like I am learning a lot more. They are starting to have challenges for us,” said Jasmine Dukes, a seventh-grader at the newly revamped Friendship Preparatory Academy at Calverton. The seven Baltimore schools were chosen to receive $25 million over three years in the School Improvement Grant program, with much going to technology and teacher training. In the program’s second year, the schools have showed varied results: Some have gotten worse, and others are slowly showing progress. Because national experts say there is no proven model for turning a school around, the city is using different approaches, from turning schools over to outside operators or charters to firing staff and starting over. Schools don’t get fixed quickly, and state and city officials said it will take several years to understand what has worked. “There is no silver bullet. The work is messy. It is not linear,” said Tina McKnight, who has helped to monitor the schools for the Maryland Department of Education. Overall, though, Maryland educators say they are pleased at the early results. “The success we have been seeing at these schools has not been seen for a long time,” said Ann Chafin, an assistant state superintendent, although she acknowledged that “every school is moving at its own pace.” (Baltimore Sun)

New York: Who wants to be the next education mayor?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg may not be running for reelection next year, but he will undoubtedly be playing a starring role in the race to replace him. The six Democrats expected to run next year are all supportive of the mayor’s efforts to take control of the school system, but differ with Bloomberg on most everything else—whether it’s school closures, co-locations with charter schools, relations with the teachers union or standardized test scores. So if next year’s race is for the right to be the next education mayor, how do the candidates stack up? What are their qualifications, their accomplishments and their thoughts on some of the more controversial policies of the Bloomberg administration? David Bloomfield, a professor of education at CUNY and an expert on education policy in New York, was kind enough to offer his analysis of each candidate’s qualifications. (City & State)

New York: Much at stake as NY tests students in its school
Never before has so much been riding on the annual standardized tests that New York’s elementary students are about to confront. Under new state law, students’ test performance will now account for as much as 40 percent of annual performance reviews for certain teachers. Also for the first time, the tests will include potential questions for future tests, which after this year will incorporate new “common core” standards, which set uniform benchmarks for what high school students should know at graduation to be prepared for college and careers. Fresh off of spring break, students in grades 3-8 will tackle English Language Arts assessments in three daily 90-minute sessions beginning Tuesday. Math tests with questions like those above, taken from past 4th-grade assessments, follow on April 25-27. While the tests ultimately are meant to measure student achievement in the state’s 700 districts, they are now also intended to show the effectiveness of teachers and principals. Under a February agreement between Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the New York State United Teachers union, the results will weigh heavily in annual professional performance reviews, which in turn, figure into to job security and tenure hopes. (WSJ)


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