stern warning

Feds caution New York State on Race to the Top implementation

The Obama administration is warning New York State that it could lose hundreds of millions of federal dollars if it doesn’t stick to its Race to the Top promises.

The stern warning comes in conjunction with a set of U.S. Department of Education progress reports summarizing implementation successes and setbacks in each of the states that won federal Race to the Top funds in 2010. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., shared a $4.3 billion pot of prize money.

Department officials said New York was doing better than Hawaii, which last month was deemed as being at “high risk” of losing its Race to the Top funding. But they said the state was falling behind after making progress in Race to the Top’s first year.

“New York has a chance to be a national leader or a laggard and we are only interested in supporting real courage and bold leadership,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Backtracking on reform commitments could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars for improving New York schools.”

When New York submitted its Race to the Top application in 2010, it promised an ambitious slate of reforms. Officials said they would revamp teacher evaluations, overhaul curriculum standards and assessments, build a comprehensive education data system, and turn around struggling schools. In exchange, the state would receive $700 million over four years.

In the first year after the money started flowing, the state was supposed to begin building the statewide data system, and this year, it was supposed to finalize new teacher evaluations in accordance with a state law passed to help win the Race to the Top competition. Neither project has moved forward as planned.

In August, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli rejected a contract with Wireless Generation to build the data system over concerns about the company’s relationship to News Corporation, which was embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal. Officials said the contract rejection set the data system back by about a year.

Plus, a requirement in the state’s teacher evaluation law that each district hammer out terms with its union has brought its implementation to a standstill. After negotiations fell apart in several districts, including New York City, last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the state’s teacher evaluation law “didn’t work.” Yet state officials have made having new evaluations in place a requirement for receiving most Race to the Top funds going forward.

In a joint statement, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and State Education Commissioner John King called the characterization of New York’s policy standstill “disappointing but not discouraging.”  But they said they approved of the Obama administration’s decision to play hardball with Race to the Top winners — with threats of a funding freeze similar to the one King enacted last week to 10 districts, including New York City, that hadn’t met a state deadline for finalizing new teacher evaluations.

“The RTTT report is a reminder that the federal government will hold us to the commitments we made in our RTTT application, just as we will hold districts and educators to the commitments they made,” Tisch and King said.

Federal officials said they were working with the state to put New York back on track. But it’s hard to see how they could help. Teacher evaluations are being negotiated in local districts, where federal officials said they were not likely to get involved. A lawsuit challenging the evaluation law is making its way through the court system, which could take years. And state officials are trying again to identify a vendor to build the data system, but any contract is subject to review by the comptroller’s office.

The Obama administration issued a similar warning to Florida, saying that setbacks there had followed a strong start to implementation.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.