race to the race to the top

States' education leaders could make all the difference in RttT

As finalist states head into the home stretch of competition for coveted Race to the Top funds, who’s running the show could make all the difference, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today.

Duncan appeared today at a panel with former Education Secretary Richard Riley at a professional development conference for teachers in Manhattan. Speaking with reporters afterward, Duncan reiterated what he has often said: Race to the Top applications will be judged on “the three C’s,” a state’s “courage, commitment and capacity” to put its plans into action.

When I asked him today how the contest’s reviewers will determine capacity, Duncan said judges’ appraisals of the people behind the plans will be the most important factor — more important, he said, than a state’s policy track record so far.

That stance is likely to comfort New York officials, who have banked in part on the strong reputations of the state education system’s leadership to drive the state’s Race to the Top application, even in the face of perceived setbacks such as the legislature’s failure to lift the statewide cap on charter schools.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner arrived at his job in October bringing with him promises of change in the state education department and a reputation as an innovator in the field of teacher training. And Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has often emphasized that her reform priorities and those of Steiner — centered around raising academic standards, improving state tests, overhauling the state’s system for tracking student data and making teacher training more practical — align with Obama administration goals.

Each finalist state will send teams of five to Washington, D.C. in two weeks to make their final pitches to the Race to the Top judges. The judges will adjust their scoring of each state’s application in response to their impressions of each team’s presentations.

The point spread among finalists’ applications is so close that states’ performances on these presentations will be the deciding factor, according to EdWeek’s Politics K-12.

The state has not yet determined who exactly will represent New York in their presentation, state education department Tom Dunn told me yesterday. Today Duncan made clear that he wants to meet the captains of each state’s proposals, not outside consultants.

“Bring us the folks who are going to be doing the work,” Duncan said.

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:


The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.


In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news