Guest post courtesy of Paul Herdman, Rodel Foundation of Delaware
Right now, 18 “round-two” states and DC are prepping for their high stakes interviews. They’re probably also breathing a collective sigh of relief that their applications are out the door, attending to fires left burning while they were working on their proposals, and catching up on sleep. Yet, with all this, there are other things that the finalists might want to add to their to-do lists prior to the RTTT announcement in a few weeks.
While the Rodel Foundation of Delaware is not directly engaged in the implementation of the state’s RTTT work, we are endeavoring to be as helpful as possible in our state. I’m looking for your input, and offering a few observations from the sidelines that I hope will be helpful as other states think about what they should be doing before September. I’ve captured them under the headings of Capacity, Communications, and Courage.
Capacity. Implementing new standards, data systems, teacher evaluation systems, and strategies to turn around your failing schools will strain even the most capable state Department of Education. This is a complex set of new tasks, so capacity is critical. Simple example: Half of the money that goes to a state will go to the districts and charters. Each of them will have 90 days to develop a “scope of work” on how to spend their funds. Therefore, in a medium-sized state like Colorado, that means the state will need to negotiate more than 100 scopes of work involving tens of millions of dollars in very little time; incredibly tough to do well. Bottom line, it would be good to begin thinking now about how to organize your current team and how you can build, borrow, or buy the staff you’ll need if you win.
Communications. With all the implementation work on your plate, it could be easy to de-prioritize the importance of letting people know what RTTT will mean to them, whether they are in schools, or not. But little else will be as critical. Race to the Top provides a big check, and a lot of interests will be lining up to spend it. But the commitments are clear, with very specific deliverables. Tennessee SCORE has done a good job of laying out a platform for this with its “Expect More Achieve More” campaign. This is an area where the private sector could partner with a state to develop a comprehensive communications’ plan – whether they win or not — with a website, speaker series, etc., before the announcement.
Courage. Delivering on RTTT will be hard. The plan may be set, and the money may be there, but implementation will require lots of changes in policy and practice. And the average citizen isn’t going to see the benefits right away. In fact, moves like raising standards and telling thousands of parents that their child isn’t as well prepared as they thought is going to be incredibly difficult. The push back to policy makers will be significant. So, real thought needs to be given to the work that will be needed to sustain and build political momentum for this work over time. (Many of your states have advocacy groups associated with a national network known as PIE and could be a good resource.)
The nation’s schools are going through what MLK might have called a point of “creative tension.” A point where people of good faith are openly debating and fighting about what they believe is in the best interests of children. This is a good and necessary thing, and RTTT is a critical part of this movement. Based on what I’ve seen, DE and TN are eager to share what’s working and what’s not with the next round of RTTT states and ultimately with the nation. We will begin that process this fall when DE and TN leaders will host the first of what we hope to be a series of forums for all the RTTT states to learn from (and lean on) one another as we begin to break new ground together. What are the topics you want to see discussed among the states? If you head a union, a school, or a foundation, what would you want to talk through with your peers to realize your state’s vision?