|Editor’s note: Massachusetts had the highest score among the nine states and the District of Columbia last week that won grants totaling $3.4 billion in the second phase of the Race to the Top competition. Massachusetts will receive $250 million in federal funds over the next four years to implement landmark reforms in public education.|
Gov. Deval Patrick has hit another homerun. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last month that Massachusetts was one of the 9 states and the District of Columbia to win Phase 2 of the Race to the Top. This will bring into the state another $250 million of federal funds over four years to improve the quality of public schools.
While Patrick has homered numerous times during his tenure as governor, this one was special. It demonstrated the commitment and courage of his administration that came back from striking out in Phase 1 of the competition for school funds to finish first.
A major goal of President Barack Obama is to provide a quality education for all Americans. Obama established a $4.35 billion fund to award grants to states that developed programs to improve public education. The purpose of this program, called the Race to the Top, is to provide financial incentives for states to undertake approved projects.
In Phase 1, 41 states including Massachusetts and the District of Columbia submitted proposals. Peer review panels selected only two winners — Delaware and Tennessee. According to reports, the two winners had dared to step on the third rail of teachers union opposition. They had made student performance an element of teacher’s evaluation.
It was back to the drawing board. For Phase 2, 35 states and the District of Columbia applied for $3.4 billion in grants. The goals established by Duncan were “embracing common academic standards, improving teacher quality, creating educational data systems, and turning around the lowest performing schools.”
There was a political wrangle in Massachusetts to enable the state to develop a prize winning contest entry. Even the effort to substitute a national standard student evaluation test for the controversial MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) met with opposition.
Contest reviewers were not impressed with theoretical applications. However, the legislation in July, 2010 to update the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act established that the improvement of public education was a serious matter in the Commonwealth. The new law increased the number of charter schools and enabled the Mass. Department of Education to override collective bargaining agreements and local control of school systems with a failing performance.
The Race to the Top grant will finance the education of teachers to make them more effective in the urban classroom, and it will also provide bonuses for teachers who are indentified as the best educators.
In order to succeed, Patrick had to challenge the right of teachers unions to impose standards that failed to lead to academic success. His eloquent leadership induced educational professionals to aspire to produce even higher academic results.