With a Jan. 19 deadline for the first round of federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant applications looming, the state Department of Education held a meeting on Dec. 18 to gather input on the development of New Jersey’s application. The $5 billion RTTT program is part of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan. For New Jersey, the grants could total between $200 million and $400 million.
State department of education officials outlined the current direction of the planned grant proposal, which stalled earlier because of confusion between the department and governor-elect Chris Christie’s transition team on whether the state should apply in the first round of application grants, due next month, or wait until the second round, due June 1, 2010.
The recipients of the grants will be those districts that operate Title I schools; currently New Jersey has 513 school districts receiving Title I funds.
The U.S. Department of Education wants states to create plans that address four specific areas of reform:
- Higher academic standards
- Teacher training and development: attracting and retaining quality teachers, including efforts such as performance pay and evaluating teachers and principals through multiple measures
- Enhanced statewide tracking systems: using data collection to measure student performance and guide instruction
- Improvement of low-performing schools: providing support to turn around failing schools, such as establishing charter schools
At the Dec. 18 meeting, Gov. Jon S. Corzine pointed out that the state has already taken steps that would contribute to the status of its application, such as compiling longitudinal data on students through NJ SMART.
Other existing programs that address the four areas of reform include the state’s new curriculum standards and the new statewide student testing requirements, such as the end-of-term biology assessment, said Willa Spicer, assistant commissioner of education.
Several additional ideas are under consideration for the portion of the plan that tackles teacher training and development, including summer training for teachers and grouping together struggling schools, even across district lines, under “administrative principals,” who could enact specific improvement strategies. Also under consideration is a closer working relationship with colleges to improve the training of future teachers.
The competition also requires that states show support from other members of the statewide educational community, including schools boards, administrators and teachers' union leaders.
The state Department of Education is working with a consultant to develop the state’s grant proposal. All elements of a state’s plan must be sustainable, and not create on-going or recurring expenses.
The federal Department of Education has said that it would provide feedback to applicants that are unsuccessful in the Jan. 19 round of grants; those applications could be revised and resubmitted in time for the June deadline.