District 205 preparing to ‘Race to the Top’

Competitive grant program offers funds to encourage states to implement education reform

By Joe McGehee

Staff Writer

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), signed into law Feb. 17, 2009, by President Barack Obama (D), provides $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site, the Race to the Top Fund is “… a competitive grant program to encourage and reward states that are implementing significant reforms in the four education areas described in the ARRA: enhancing standards and assessments, improving the collection and use of data, increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution, and turning around struggling schools.”

The U.S. Department of Education will make awards in two phases, with Phase 1 funding awarded in spring 2010 and Phase 2 funding awarded by Sept.30, 2010. The deadline for applications for Phase 1 funding is Jan. 19.

“The state of Illinois will apply for between $400-$500 million in Race to the Top funds,” said Molly Phalen, president of the Rockford Education Association (REA). “Changes to education, as a part of the president’s education reform efforts, are coming, and the more we can be a participant and affect our own destiny, the better off we will be.”

According to the Illinois Department of Education’s Web site, the state would be required to make advances in specific areas to qualify for grant funding. The required advances are in the areas of: adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college, the workplace and the global economy; building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals; and changing the course of the lowest-achieving schools.

Refocusing on the four areas addressed in the Race to the Top program may not be solely limited to qualification for grant funds, as lawmakers may consider a plan to link teacher and principal salaries with student performance. Illinois may also consider tailoring other education policies to align with Race to the Top objectives as they deliberate in Springfield. However, many feel it is too soon to know what new policies may be implemented.

“There is a lot of change coming in the world of education that will make some of our people (teachers, principals) uncomfortable,” Phalen said. “But these changes are something we all need to look at.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and what the REA has done is pledge to make our best effort to make these changes work,” Phalen added.

Rockford Public School District 205 officials declined to comment about the Race to the Top program as of press time. They planned on introducing the latest news regarding the program at the School Board meeting scheduled for Jan. 12.

From the Jan. 13-19, 2010 issue.

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