1) I hope you can join me a week from Wednesday at the REACH Awards Day from 10-12:30 on Aug. 5th at the Chase branch on 39th and Broadway (see full invite at the end of this email).
REACH (Rewarding Achievement; www.reachnyc.org) is a pay-for-performance initiative that aims to improve the college readiness of low-income students at 31 inner-city high schools in New York by rewarding them with up to $1,000 for each Advanced Placement exam they pass. I founded it, with funding from the Pershing Square Foundation and support from the Council of Urban Professionals.
This past year was the first full year of the program and I’m delighted to report very substantial gains in the overall number of students passing AP exams at the 31 schools, and an even bigger gain among African-American and Latino students (exact numbers will be released at the event). As a result, more than 1,000 student have earned nearly $1 MILLION in REACH Scholar Awards! Next Wednesday, the students will come to pick up their checks, Joel Klein will be the highlight of the press conference at 11am, and there will be a ton of media. I hope to see you there! You can RSVP to REACH@nycup.org.
2) STOP THE PRESSES!!! Last Friday will go down in history, I believe, as a key tipping point moment in the decades-long effort to improve our K-12 educational system. President Obama and Sec. Duncan both appeared at a press conference to announce the formal launch of the Race to the Top fund (KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg also spoke and rocked the house!). Other than not being there on vouchers, Obama and Duncan are hitting ALL of the right notes, which, backed with HUGE dollars, will no doubt result in seismic shifts in educational policy across the country.
Here’s an excerpt from Arne Duncan’s Op Ed in the Washington Post from Friday (full text below — well worth reading):
Under Race to the Top guidelines, states seeking funds will be pressed to implement four core interconnected reforms.
— To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.
— To close the data gap — which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction — states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.
— To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals — and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren’t up to the job.
— Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.
The Race to the Top program marks a new federal partnership in education reform with states, districts and unions to accelerate change and boost achievement. Yet the program is also a competition through which states can increase or decrease their odds of winning federal support. For example, states that limit alternative routes to certification for teachers and principals, or cap the number of charter schools, will be at a competitive disadvantage. And states that explicitly prohibit linking data on achievement or student growth to principal and teacher evaluations will be ineligible for reform dollars until they change their laws.
3) Here’s the article from Friday’s Washington Post, before the press conference:
President Obama is leaning hard on the nation’s schools, using the promise of more than $4 billion in federal aid — and the threat of withholding it — to strong-arm the education establishment to accept more charter schools and performance pay for teachers.
The pressure campaign has been underway for months as Education Secretary Arne Duncan travels the country delivering a blunt message to state officials who have resisted change for decades: Embrace reform or risk being shut out.
“What we’re saying here is, if you can’t decide to change these practices, we’re not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we’re not going to send those dollars there,” Obama said in an Oval Office interview Wednesday. “And we’re counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change.”
On Friday, Obama will officially announce the “Race to the Top,” a competition for $4.35 billion in grants. He wants states to use funds to ease limits on charter schools, tie teacher pay to student achievement and move for the first time toward common academic standards. It is part of a broader effort to improve school achievement with a $100 billion increase in education funding, more money for community colleges and an increase in Pell Grants for college students.
4) And here’s the article afterward:
President Obama launched a competition Friday for $4.35 billion in federal education funds, urging states to ease restrictions on charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement and adopt common national academic standards to be eligible for the money.
In a speech at the Education Department, Obama joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan in announcing draft criteria for the “Race to the Top” fund, which the administration is billing as the “largest-ever federal investment in education reform.”
“America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters,” Obama said. “In a world where countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its people.”
Acknowledging that “our education system is falling short,” he said that for years, “we’ve talked these problems to death . . . while doing all too little to solve them.” Now, he said, he is challenging the nation’s governors, schools boards, teachers, parents, students and others to meet “a few key benchmarks for reform” in order to compete for and win Race to the Top grants.
“That race starts today,” Obama said. He pledged that “this competition will not be based on politics or ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group” but on “whether a state is ready to do what works.”
5) As an example of the impact this will likely have at the state level, here’s an editorial in today’s NY Daily News:
Taken to school: Obama funding plan must force Legislature to accept education reforms. www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2009/07/26/2009-07-26_taken_to_school.html
President Obama has dealt a much-deserved slap to lawmakers in New York and other states who kowtow to teachers unions:
They must get rid of anti-reform limits on holding teachers accountable and opening charter schools, or they will kiss hundreds of millions in federal education grants goodbye.
The choice for Albany could not be clearer: Repeal those now.
The Legislature was dead wrong when it voted last year to bar school officials from even looking at students’ test scores when deciding whether a teacher is effective enough to get tenure.
The Legislature was also wrong to cap how many privately operated, publicly funded charters schools could open across the state – first at 100, then at a still-too-stingy 200.
Albany enacted both laws at the behest of teachers unions, which bathe legislators in campaign cash. Union members recoil at being held accountable for progress – or lack thereof – in their classrooms as measured by the objective standards of tests. The unions have also battled charters because they are mostly nonunion and consistently get better results with less money.
But Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are demanding that kids’ needs come first. Unveiling a $4.35 billion grant program last week, Duncan warned that states that cap charter schools will put themselves at a “competitive disadvantage” for funding. And schools that block the use of test data in evaluating teachers will be flatly ineligible.
And Duncan made plain his attitude toward New York in a speech last month, saying:
“Believe it or not, several states, including New York, Wisconsin and California, have laws that create a firewall between students and teacher data. I think that’s simply ridiculous. We need to know what is and is not working and why.”
This gives Albany lawmakers a huge financial incentive to do the right thing.
It’s an offer they must not refuse.
6) Obama sat with reporters from the Washington Post for more than 20 minutes. The transcript is below and you can see the video at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/politics/education/interview.html?sid=ST2009072303922. Interesting comments about the unions:
Q And one more question on this. You say you want to work with teachers unions and not impose a program on them. But there are critics who say, well, if you work with the teachers unions, those are the same entities that are obstacles to reform. How can you work with them and reform at the same time?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I mean, I think that there is a cynical view, oftentimes ideologically driven, that says teachers unions inherently are going to be opposed to reform in our school system. I just don’t believe that, maybe because my sister is a teacher and I know how hard she works and how deeply she cares about her kids.
I think teachers, understandably, in the past have been suspicious of reform measures that seem to make them into a scapegoat and don’t take into account the extraordinary challenges that they face day in, day out — everything from having to dig into their own pocket to buy school supplies, to not having the kinds of support services for kids who may have trouble outside of the classroom, to bureaucratic rules that get in the way of them teaching creatively.
So there are a whole range of very legitimate concerns that teachers have. And what we want to do is to assume that teachers want to see kids succeed, solicit their best ideas, and then shape and craft reforms that have their buy-in and have their ownership, because that’s going to — there’s going to be greater success.
Now — but I want to be realistic. There are going to be elements within the teachers union where they’re just resistant to change because people inherently are resistant to change. Teachers aren’t any different from any politicians or corporate CEOs. There are going to be certain habits that have been built up that they don’t want to change.
And what we’re saying here is if you can’t decide to change these practices, we’re not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we’re not going to send those dollars there.
And we’re counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change.
I think it’s important to note, just in terms of the politics of it, the same notion that somehow teachers unions would not accept reform — the fact is, is that we got this passed. And you’ve got national teachers unions, both the NEA and the AFT, that have been consulted even as we’ve been putting this together.