For Tennessee to win a role in the federal government’s massive Race to the Top program, officials will have to present brand new ideas for changing education. They’ll also have to show that local school districts are willing to act as laboratories for those ideas.
This week, the US Department of Education announced rules for the $5-billion dollar stimulus program. It specifies that states and local districts have to reach binding agreements saying they’ll carry out their proposed changes if they win the grant. States will be judged, in part, by how many local officials sign on-and how many don’t.
Speaking for the state’s Education Department, Rachel Woods says officials here hope to build support by giving teacher’s unions, superintendents, principals, andschool boards a part in developing the proposals.
“You will see both the governor and the commissioner actually engage in working with those key education stakeholders, to work with them to develop what our reform agenda will be that we put forward.”
State education officials say Tennessee is already in good shape to meet another key requirement of Race to the Top. One of the goals for the grant program is to find ways of taking information about how well students perform in the classroom and translate it into new and better ways of helping them learn.
Woods says Tennessee has an advantage because extensive systems are already in place to track student performance and improvement.
“We have this great data system out there, but it’s not being used very well in a diagnostic sense. This would allow us to really go a lot further to really improve teacher quality and improve outcomes for students.”
Race the Top applications are due in mid-January. It’s not yet clear how many states will be chosen, or how much money each will get.