Third time no Race to the Top charm

Colorado has lost out in another round of competition for federal Race to the Top funds, this time for $60 million that would have supported state early learning initiatives.

Photo illustrationThe $500 million Early Learning Challenge program drew applications from 35 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Colorado came in 12th, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday, achieving a total of 233.4 points out of a possible 300 – or 77.8 percent.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t win, but we’re not discouraged,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia told reporters Friday afternoon, shortly after returning from a cultural exchange trip to China.

Garcia is leading a Hickenlooper administration initiative to improve literacy among young children. He and partners from Mile High United Way and other groups recently completed a statewide listening tour on the issue, and the administration is preparing a policy proposal on early literacy that’s due in January.

Garcia said the impetus of having to prepare the application “got us much farther down the road” in working on the issue than might have happened otherwise.

Colorado’s application stressed these initiatives:

  • Improving and streamlining state oversight of early childhood education
  • Developing an upgraded quality rating system for programs
  • Integrating and consolidating early childhood development guidelines
  • Improving evaluations and interventions for young children with high needs
  • Providing improved training of early childhood workers
  • Expanded school readiness assessments of children entering kindergarten

Garcia said not getting federal funds “might slow us down” in pursuing those goals, but “It’s hard to say how much longer things might take.”

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and aide Jodi Hardin
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and aide Jodi Hardin
Jodi Hardin, director of early childhood systems initiatives in Garcia’s office, said for example the grant money would have allowed pilot testing of new kindergarten assessments in 500 locations. The pilot will go ahead but in far fewer locations. She said not getting the money also will mean training of childcare workers in fewer locations than had been hoped.

Garcia said the administration will move ahead with a legislative initiative to streamline administration of early childhood programs.

Colorado previously lost in two rounds of competition for general Race to the Top funds. Colorado is eligible for a $17.9 million grant from a “consolation round” of the second general competition.

Asked about Colorado’s 0-for-3 record, Garcia said there were “unique reasons for each application. It’s bad luck to a certain extent.”

Diana Sirko, deputy commissioner of education, told legislators Friday, “We were very disappointed this morning with the news.”

Beverly Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, said, “Today’s announcement … is obviously disappointing. … We know how critical early literacy and childhood development are to success in school. We strongly supported the Race to the Top application and are proud of the effort Colorado has made. We’ll continue working with Governor Hickenlooper, Lt. Governor Garcia, Mile High United Way and leaders across the state to build support and success around early childhood education.”

A look at the winners

No state won more than 90 percent of possible points. The top state, North Carolina, earned 89.9 percent of points possible from five reviewers and will take home $69.9 million.

Here’s the ranking and points of the top twelve, with the nine winners in bold:

  • NORTH CAROLINA – 269.6 points – 89.9 percent – $69.9 million
  • MASSACHUSETTS – 267 points – 89 percent – $50 million
  • WASHINGTON – 263.8 points – 87.9 percent – $60 million
  • DELAWARE – 261.2 points – 87.1 percent – $49.8 million
  • OHIO – 261 points – 87 percent – $69.9 million
  • MARYLAND – 252 points – 84 percent – $49.9 million
  • MINNESOTA – 250.8 points – 83.6 percent – $44.8 million
  • RHODE ISLAND – 243.8 points – 81.3 percent – $50 million
  • CALIFORNIA – 243.6 points – 81.2 percent – $52.5 million
  • NEW MEXICO – 236 points – 78.7 percent
  • WISCONSIN – 234 points – 78 percent
  • COLORADO – 233.4 points – 77.8 percent

A review of points awarded Colorado’s application shows the state fared best in the category of “successful state systems,” earning 92 percent of 65 possible points. The category considered items such as past commitment to early learning and articulation of the state’s rationale for its early learning agenda and goals.

“The applicant has strongly met this criterion by clearly showing the financial investment in early learning and development programs from 2007 to present,” reviewers noted. “The applicant gives a strong presentation of the building blocks leading to a quality system.”

But Colorado didn’t do as well in two others areas – “a great early childhood education workforce,” with 63 percent of the 40 points possible, and “promoting early learning and development outcomes for children,” with 71.6 percent of the 60 points possible.

Reviewers dinged the state for the lack of a clear education pathway for early childhood workers, writing, “The applicant states that the state has no Early Education degree available and therefore has no progression of coursework leading from a credential to a 4-year degree”

See a summary chart of all states’ ranking and scores and go to the U.S. Department of Education webpage to see all states’ applications and reviewers’ comments, including comments on Colorado’s application.

Colorado’s application scorecard

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.