Race to the Top District Competition

Recommendations Submitted by the Forum for Youth Investment

Prepared by Thaddeus Ferber, June 2012

The Forum for Youth Investment (“the Forum”) applauds the administrations Race to the Top District Competition, especially the competitive priority on “results, resource alignment and integrated services.” These are all essential elements in the Forum for Youth Investment’s Ready by 21 standards and strategies, which were designed to help states and localities undertake this work.

Specific recommendations are highlighted below, based on the Forum’s Ready by 21 standards and strategies, as well as on recommendations submitted by other organizations espousing similar principles.

Eligibility Criteria

1.Eligible Applicants

  • To ensure meaningful participation of partner organizations and to help facilitate the successful implementation of grants, eligible applicants should be expanded in a manner similar to i3 grants to include nonprofit organizations (including intermediary organizations) in partnership with an LEA or consortia of LEAs. This could be accomplished by amending eligibility criteria to read:

 

Eligible applicants include individual local educational agencies (LEAs) (as defined in this document), consortia of LEAs, and non-profit organizations (including intermediary organizations) in partnership with an LEA or consortia of LEAs.

 

Application Requirements

2) Comment period

  • We recommend that existing collaborations, partnerships and alliances operating in the district should be provided a comment period as well, to ensure that a new collaborative governance structure is not set up if there is an existing one better positioned to carry the work forward.
  • We recommend that states receive a minimum of 30 days (instead of five days) to review district applications in order to provide substantive commentary.
  • We recommend that in addition to SEAs, state governmental interagency coordinating bodies, such as children’s cabinets, are also given the ability to review and comment on the applications.

 

3) Consortium Applications

c. Application signatures

  • We recommend that eligible applicants should be required to obtain approval (signatures) from nonprofit organizations that are participating in the grants as well as from those already required under the proposed criteria (superintendent/CEO, local school board and local union/association president) to ensure buy-in from all key stakeholders at the outset, increasing the likelihood of a strong partnership and overall success.

 

Absolute Priorities

Personalized Learning Environments

  • We recommend clarifying the strategies for personalization of supports by modifying the sentence to include important social-emotional, physical and civic supports that create the conditions for learning (italicized below):

 

“…to create student centered learning environment(s) that are designed to: significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools, and academic, social-emotional, physical, and civic supports for teachers and students that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards….”

 

Selection Criteria

A. Vision

2) Annual Goals

  • We recommend adding:
    • g. Early Warning and Response Systems to track the academic and behavioral needs of students, and identify students who require intensive, specialized education services and programs and provide customized learning and wraparound supports.
    • h. Measures of School Readiness: The RTT-D should provide incentives to encourage districts to use a population-based measure of school readiness that includes physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and literacy, and general knowledge and communication. A population-based measure of school readiness will provide critical data about the percentage of children who are vulnerable and thriving by community, facilitating deeper and broader public engagement.

 

e. Student attendance

  • We suggest either modifying the student attendance definition to include chronic absence, or adding an additional indicator that focuses specifically on chronic absence.
  • We recommend that the Department add “at least two non-academic indicators” of child well-being to the list of areas LEAs must track.

 

B. District Capacity and Success Factors

3) Meaningful stakeholder engagement and support

            a) Description of engagement

  • We recommend adding the following in italics:

“A description of how families, teachers, and principals in participating schools (as defined in this document) and such key community stakeholders as parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, early learning programs, the business community, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, local civic and community-based organizations, local philanthropic organizations such as United Ways and community foundations, local government agencies, the local school employee organization, and institutions of higher education (IHEs) have been engaged in the development of the proposal…”

 

b) Letters of Support

  • We encourage the Department to ensure continued involvement of key stakeholders throughout the implementation process. The Department can achieve this by adding the following language at the end of B.3.b. “and a description of the roles that each stakeholder will play to help the LEA achieve its goals.”

 

C. Preparing Students for College and Careers

1) Learning

a) Students Understanding

  • The role of community partners is noticeably absent from the key actors responsible for learning in this section. We recommend changing this to include the italicized:

“With the support of parents, teachers, and other educational support specialists and personnel, and such key community stakeholders as parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, early learning programs, the business community, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, local civic and community-based organizations, local philanthropic organizations such as United Ways and community foundations, local government agencies, the local school employee organization, and institutions of higher education (IHEs)”

b) Students Provided Strategies and Tools

  • The role of community partners is noticeably absent from the key actors responsible for learning in this section. We recommend changing this to include the italicized:

“With the support of parents, teachers, and other educational support specialists and personnel, and such key community stakeholders as parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, early learning programs, the business community, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, local civic and community-based organizations, local philanthropic organizations such as United Ways and community foundations, local government agencies, the local school employee organization, and institutions of higher education (IHEs)”


2) Teaching

c) School Leadership Teams

  • We recommend modifying the definition of “school leadership team” which is used instead to include a representative of key community stakeholders. We suggest adding (in italics):

“community members and a representative of key community stakeholders such as parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, early learning programs, the business community, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, local civic and community-based organizations, local philanthropic organizations such as United Ways and community foundations, local government agencies, the local school employee organization, and institutions of higher education (IHEs)”

 

3) Policy and Infrastructure

b) Support Personalized Learning

                        iv. Interoperable Data Systems

  • We applaud the Department for including a reference to interoperable data systems. We suggest that the selection criteria provide preference to applicants that work to share data across systems in different sectors.
  • Federal policymakers, through legislation and administrative action, have already embraced a theory of action (through the America COMPETES Act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems Grant Program) supporting state education agencies (SEAs) to build specific data capacity and advance statewide data practices to ensure consistency, quality and efficiency. While the RTT-D language pays significant attention to the data capacity needed to implement some of its requirements, the language also may unnecessarily require or encourage LEAs to re-create data capacity that is already in place at the state level or that LEAs, particularly smaller and rural LEAs, may not be well positioned to create. This could unintentionally encourage districts to replicate or circumvent current state efforts, create unnecessary burdens, or unnecessarily take LEAs out of the running for the program. LEA applicants should be required to align with existing statewide practices where they exist. For example, all states have implemented a unique educator ID, and 25 states have implemented a statewide teacher of record definition. If their state does not already have in place a teacher evaluation system or statewide TSDL practices, LEA applicants should be encouraged to address similar emerging practices and to engage stakeholders in the process of developing the data policies and practices related to these evaluation systems to ensure quality and buy-in. We recommend that applicants describe how they are leveraging existing state data systems and tools to support implementation of their plans, if applicable.

 

4) Performance Measurement

  • Surveys of educators (f) and students (g) should also include climate, culture and the conditions for learning in order to paint a complete picture of the conditions in which teachers teach and students learn. Thus, we suggest making the following changes to the definitions for student survey:

Student survey: Measures students’ perspectives on teaching, learning, and related supports (e.g., school climate, school culture, and the conditions for learning) in their classrooms and schools. The surveys must be research-based, valid, and reliable.”

 

  • We recommend adding a parent survey that would help districts learn more about parent engagement and their needs in supporting student learning. We suggest adding C4h) to read:

Parent survey: Measures parents’ perspectives on teaching, learning and related supports (e.g., school climate, school culture, the conditions for learning, teacher and principal support, opportunities for parent engagement) in classrooms and schools. The surveys must be research-based, valid and reliable.

  • In order for all of these surveys to be useful, the Department should require applicants to explain how they are going to use the survey results to make changes to their plans, rather than just require a count and percentage of how many people complete the survey. We suggest the following language:

The number and percentage of participating (educators, students, or parents) who complete a survey … and specific strategies for how the applicant will incorporate survey results to inform their approach.

 

D. Transition Plan and Continuous Improvement

3) High Quality Plan

  • We suggest changing this to read:

“High-quality strategy for engaging with internal and external stakeholders in the development, implementation, and assessment of the plan; and”

4) • Drive Quality Continuous Improvement

  • To ensure grantees implement a quality continuous improvement process, we recommend strengthening the proposed language to read:

“Strategy for implementing a rigorous continuous improvement process that provides timely and regular feedback on progress toward project goals and opportunities for ongoing corrections and improvements during and after the term of the grant. This must include how the applicant will monitor, measure and use data to improve and scale best practices, and publicly share the quality of its Race to the Top District funded investments, such as professional development, technology and staff.”

 

F. Optional Budget Supplement

  • The concept of a budget supplement is an innovative approach to promote creative local practices. We would suggest that the examples in F1 be broadened to include: family and community engagement; family and community support; social, emotional, health and civic supports; expanded learning time and opportunities; and conditions for learning.

 

Additional Recommended Selection Criteria

We recommend adding the following items to the selection criteria.

 

Reconnecting Disconnected Youth

In line with the White House Council on Community Solutions’ recommendation that federal “regulations should encourage dropout recovery services, and Race to the Top should include selection criteria for applicants including reconnecting opportunity youth [the Council’s term for youth that are not in school or the workforce] strategies,” we recommend adding selection criteria for districts that propose a credible strategy for reaching those young people who have left education without a degree. We join the June 8, 2012, recommendations of the Alliance for Educational Excellence concerning dropout recovery and early warning indicator and intervention systems. We encourage the Department to add selection criteria which focuses on districts that present persuasive plans to (1) create and factor in early warning indicators of weak promotion power at the middle school level and dropout issues at the high school level, and (2) personalize interventions to put those students at risk of dropping out back on track.

 

Pay for Success

  • We recommend adding selection criteria awarding points for districts that design performance-based contracts. Applicants could be judged based on their creativity creating challenges, prizes and milestone-based “pay for success” payment structures, aligning the competition with two recent OMB memos on prizes and challenges.

Existing partnerships

  • Creating partnerships is hard work. Having successful partnerships is even harder. We therefore recommend adding selection criteria awarding points for applicants that have an existing partnership with a track record of success.

Competitive Preference Priority

We strongly support the competitive preference priority on results, resource alignment and integrated services.

  1. Partnership.
  • Too often localities interpret federal calls for partnership to mean that a new entity needs to be formed. This leads to localities which have lots of different partnerships, which leaves each spread thin and under-resourced. We therefore strongly urge you to explicitly state that existing partnerships can be used, but amending this paragraph to read:

“Whether the application has an existing coherent and sustainable partnership, or has forged a new coherent and sustainable partnership, with . . .”

  • The capacity of the entity managing the partnership (referred to sometimes as the “backbone institution”) is pivotal to the success of this endeavor.  We recommend adding more specificity to “coherent and sustainable” partnership, including the staff capacity and amount of funding allocated toward providing the core, central management of the partnership itself.
  • We recommend adding to list of entities in a partnership to include (additions in italics):

“…public and private organizations, such as city and county departments of labor, health, human services, juvenile justice, children youth and families, and public health, after-school, and social service providers; businesses, philanthropies, civic groups, nonprofit intermediaries, parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups and other community-based organizations; early learning programs, and post-secondary institutions…”

(2) Partnership Activities

  • We recommend adding:

v. identify and inventory the needs and assets of the school and community that are aligned with the goals for improving the education and family and community results identified by the partnership.

 

vi. create a decision-making process and infrastructure to select, implement and evaluate solutions that address the individual needs of participating students (as defined in this document) and support improved results.

 

vii. engage students, parents and families of participating students in decision-making about solutions and in addressing student, family, and school needs.

 

viii. routinely assess the partnership’s implementation progress and resolve challenges and problems.

 

(3) Service Integration

  • We recommend explicitly naming other local government agencies to ensure there is horizontal alignment, such as (italics added):

“… the integration of education, labor, health, human services, juvenile justice, children youth and families, public health, and other services…”

 

Additional criteria for determining the extent to which an applicant meets this competitive priority.

We recommend adding:

 

(6) Existing partnerships with a track record of success. Creating partnerships is hard work. Having successful partnerships is even harder. We therefore recommend as criteria for determining the extent to which an applicant meets this competitive priority the extent to which they can demonstrate that they have an existing partnership with a track record of success.

 

(7) Alignment with other District and State Efforts to Implement Other Federal Grant Programs and Initiatives. States and districts are implementing a variety of federal grant programs including RTT and School Improvement Grants, as well as Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers. States and districts have worked carefully to ensure that the various performance measures and protocols required under these programs are aligned throughout the state and local level. To ensure that RTT-D does not frustrate the purposes and intended outcomes of these other policies, we believe that RTT-D must ensure that district applications do not establish requirements or performance measures in conflict with state efforts to implement existing federal programs.

 

The applicant should demonstrate how they will leverage resources received under other grant programs and also align relevant program requirements.

Within earlier iterations of the RTT grant program, district support was a critical component of states’ applications. We believe that similar consideration must be applied to states’ commentaries and support of their district applications. Alternatively, the RTT-D scoring system must strongly favor district applications that are endorsed by their respective states or completed in collaboration with their respective state departments of education, health, human services, labor and juvenile justice. We strongly believe that the sustainability and benefits of district applications rely heavily upon state support and coordination.

 

Definitions

Student Attendance

  • The definition of student attendance should be changed to:

Monitoring the percent and number of students who are chronically absent – missing 10% or more of school over the course of a year for any reason including excused and unexcused absences and suspensions.

 

Key Community Stakeholders

  • To strengthen the definition of key stakeholders (we suggest adding “community” to that description) throughout the document, we suggest adding a new definition to the guidelines based on the existing language.

Key Community Stakeholders: parents and parent organizations, students and student organizations, early learning programs, the business community, civil rights organizations, advocacy groups, local civic and community-based organizations, local philanthropic organizations such as United Ways and community foundations, local government agencies, the local school employee organization, and institutions of higher education (IHEs)

Publishing Date: 
June 13, 2012