Race to the Top

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Arizona didn’t exactly race to the top in its effort to win federal education funding in round one of the national “Race to the Top” grant competition. In fact, Arizona’s grant application was very near the bottom. Find out what went wrong, and what Arizona must do to become more competitive in round two.

Ted Simons: Arizona came up short in its bid to win as much as $250,000,000 in the national Race To the Top competition. The contest awards federal stimulus money to states that show they're raising student achievement and reforming education. Forty states and the District of Columbia submitted applications to win a share of more than four billion dollars, but only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, came away with any money when the results were announced last month. That leaves almost $3 billion on the table for round two, but it's not clear if Arizona will submit a new application especially after its sub-par performance in round one. Arizona's application earned just 240 out of a possible 500 points. Only South Dakota did worse. Dr. Debra Duvall led Arizona's application process for the Governor's office and we spoke with Dr. Duvall earlier today.

Debra Duvall: Our application was very aspirational. It talked about our aspirations for the future and the great things that we could do. What it didn't do is it didn't lay out a plan as to how those things would actually be accomplished. I resist the word "failure" or I resist the fact that we flunked or that anything was wrong. Those would not be words that I would use to describe the application. Certainly we didn't score as many points as we would have liked. But the process itself was a very good process, and I think the outcome, short of receiving race to the top funds, the outcome was good for Arizona and it was good for all of those persons who were involved, because we are at a point of having a much better understanding of what federal education policy is going to be.

Ted Simons: Dr. Duvall says she hopes the state will reapply for funding in round two. Joining me now to talk about Race To the Top is State Representative Rich Crandall, Chair of the House Education Committee, former Arizona Superintendent of Schools, Lisa Graham Keegan, a member of the Governor's P-20 coordinating council, which helped with the Race To the Top application process, and Andrew Morrill, Vice President of the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Thank you all for joining me tonight on Horizon.

All: Thank you

Ted Simons: Lisa, let's start with you. Forty out of 41. What went wrong? Did something go wrong? Was this a failure? Did we flunk?

Lisa Graham Keegan: Call it what you want. We didn't do well, Ted. Let's just -- and I think Deb hit on it when she said it wasn't specific. And I think it wasn't specific because devil is in the details and when you get specific people get angry. What is it exactly Arizona wants to do? If Arizona wants to now start judging the quality of teachers based on how well the kids do, then you have to use some sort of assessment to say that the kids are improving or they're not. If they're not, then the teacher doesn't get a bonus, then you relate that, you have to be really specific about how that will happen. You have to say, look, we are going to recruit teachers from the top of the university class which means we may not take them the way we take them now. That'll make somebody angry. We left out that kind detail. We talked about it. We didn't put it in the plan. Arizona I think could be a lot more bold and we can talk about, you know, the Race To the Top just in general, but I think we could be a lot more bold, a lot more specific and we ought to be. It's an opportunity.

Ted Simons: Why weren't we more bold? Why weren't we more specific?

Rich Crandall: There's a couple of things. You have to look at this process is as, there's two different ways to look at it. One, several states spent millions of dollars on their applications. You look at Louisiana, Minnesota, Florida. We now get the benefit ever everything they did because everything is public record and we didn't spend any money. But that also tells you, you can't put together a big, huge, bold specific reform package relying on volunteers and committees. That's now how it's going to happen.

Ted Simons: The review process said Arizona's application there was little state direction, there was little oversight. That a fair assessment?

Andrew Morill: Yeah. I think when it came down to, two words keep showing up in the comments - design and implement. I think a lot of cases we had the design that we were lacking details on the implementation. Sometimes it was the other way around. What this kind of calls to mind for me, I spent a lot of time in the classroom as a high school English teacher and I used to be able to ask two threshold questions of my students when they proudly presented me with an essay representing a couple weeks of work. Did you follow the assignment? Is this, did you look at me and honestly tell me this is your best work? I think we can go back now as a state and make sure the next time there is going to be a next time or just in address to what this state needs to do for a blueprint on education, let's make sure we answer yes to both of those questions.

Ted Simons: Lisa, did the state ever have a chance? Only one western state made it to the finalist round which was Colorado. And it sounds like again, correct me if I am wrong, but from a distance it sounds like cooperation between unions and districts and collaboration and these sorts of things, a major factor in determining points. And yet when you have big, wide, open states with school districts far afield, that doesn't sound like it's, we are in good shape for those kinds of things.

Lisa Graham Keegan: Well, it's hard to know, Ted, exactly why the two states that won won, to begin with. You can read through all the education blogs and what you come up is, we don't know why. I also think that the feds have judged this correctly. Their biggest leverage is in not giving this money but threatening to give it. States have changed laws. They have done what I call past shovel ready policies that maybe people wanted to have, they were kind of on the brink of doing it and this encouraged them to do it. At least a dozen states have changed charter law to make that more available. Another dozen have changed some aspect of their teacher law to make it more relative to how kids are doing, assessment laws have been change. They got a lot of bang for their buck without spending a time as the feds. They said, you do these things, follow these principles, and we will get you there. I think it was an extremely smart. They should have given one.

Andrew Morill: It was. It was, it really was. It was being able to affect policy across the country without having to involve Congress at the level it would typically be done, but simply appropriating, in a new strategy, in a new way.

Ted Simons: So if that is a message to legislators and educators, is the state legislature getting the message?

Rich Crandall: I wouldn't start with the state legislature. What I would say is, do -- the one big takeaway we got from this whole process is that we now are starting to talk about big, bold reforms, all the players are kind of at the table, they don't all agree but for the first time ever we are laying out about a 10, 15-year strategic plan for education for Arizona. That concept has not existed until this process. Even if we were not to win Race To the Top two do we now have conversation that is have not taken place? One other final point is that there's now a Race To the Top three. I think this thing, they have learned from what western just talking about, tremendous results for very little.

Ted Simons: It sounds like, though, and again from what the education secretary was quoted as saying they were looking for courage, collaboration and commitment and they were looking for 100% support as close to possible. From districts and unions, for things like charters, for things like teacher evaluations and helping turn around troubled schools. Choice was in there to a certain degree as well. I remember question a show on this before the application was sent off and it sounded like everybody was pretty encouraged but the fact Arizona has done some reform and choice and charters, we should do pretty well. We didn't do pretty well.

Lisa Graham Keegan: Right, right. I think that's called sitting on your laurels. Laurels is a nice word for what we sat on. I don't think we worked that hard. There were ways we could have been much boulder. Arizona's positioned in a lot of ways and is acknowledged to be sort of the forefront of a lot of these policies when it comes to school choice, public charter schools, the legislature acted to change some teacher employment laws before this stuff ever come out. Arizona went first. In a way, that was a disadvantage for Arizona. It's already done. There were a lot of things other states could get credit for doing or planning to do that we did maybe 10 years ago but we haven't moved the ball forward and I don't think the plan we put, that we put out there really moved the ball a lot further given that we started ahead in a lot of these areas.

Andrew Morill: In some ways we could challenge the feds, though, for a little bit of consistency themselves and I would normally look at this and say they were fairly consistent. But there is one departure from this. When Race To the Top first came out the feds appeared to be saying we are going to describe the outcomes. We are going to be very clear of the outcome and goal level but we are going to let states decide what the implementation and the strategies look like to pursue those goals. I am not sure they actually kept that level of consistency. Because they seemed to get very, very prescriptive about a few tactics and strategies and I think that might be one problem with the whole process. I hope it would be a learning on both legs. You don't fall in love with tactics when is what you got on thinking is first the goals and the desired outcomes.

Ted Simons: Indeed but it sounded like again the review process and what was written afterwards Arizona plan was, "Essentially to have all decisions made locally." And they were nonplussed by that particular strategy. How do you respond?

Rich Crandall: Let's set aside -- here's what I'm going to say. I hesitate because I'm going to lay it out plainly. When your top two leaders at the Arizona Department of Education running for another office, Tom Horn is running for Attorney General, Harvey Dugan is running for state superintendent, they are busy. They have for all intents and purposes checked out of this process. So here we are with a major focus on the biggest application in Arizona education history, and our top two leaders in the Department of Education are literally preoccupied with some other things. I don't want to fault them because that's just the way our election system works. You are not going to get them attending a lot of meetings or feeling a lot of support behind ideas because Tom was traveling around the state in his bid for attorney general.

Ted Simons: But Tom Horn is saying no one really came to him and no one really asked him and some university folks are saying no one really came to them.

Rich Crandall: I think Lisa will answer that.

Lisa Graham Keegan: I think Andrew wants to…

Ted Simons: More than not coming, I think the idea was if they would have given education department, Tom Horn's office more control over what was being done, there might have been a more streamlined, a more accurate process and maybe some other education officials involved in the process as well. Fair?

Lisa Graham Keegan: Look, if that's fair, it's a good lesson for Arizona. So we probably need to get together on this. If it's true that Tom and the governor and the school representatives were not working together, then that is not just a problem for Race To the Top. That is a problem for Arizona. And that's the bigger message here. There have to be some big things that we all agree on. I think we do agree that we ought to start transitioning to more choices, more specificity, more professionalism for teachers, letting a lot more of these sort of innovative things that are working in Arizona, let's learn from those. We did not even take the time to look at the best schools in Arizona and there's lots, and say let's get those professionals in here. What are they doing? And learn from that. I mean we have some structural problems in the way that we make education policy. I think that all of us who have done it and we are the three of us have done it, it's not about necessarily just the race to the top. It's about how we are going to help Arizona move forward.

Andrew Morill: You can really tell when a student writes an assignment to just complete the assignment. I think we went deeper than that but not by a whole lot. I think the next time around, we can maybe we had to get this one out of the way. It's unfortunate that we didn't succeed more than we did. But maybe we had to get this out of the way to be able to say, all right, now, let's do more than complete an application process. Let's do more than think about the financial return on completing the application. Let's actually sit down, stakeholder groups, find the level, the areas where we can agree and build from there and really put down a blueprint for education.

Ted Simons: What are those areas that you think can find agreement?

Andrew Morill: I will give you a perfect example. Right now there's a great deal of talk at the legislative level about what an evaluation instrument or what an evaluation framework might look like for teachers. I submit to you that we can do better than have a conversation about teacher evaluation. If we fold teacher evaluation into a conversation about systemic support for teach and quality, and really shaping the best performance we can get from our teachers, then we are going to talk about a line professional development, we are going to talk about the meaningful use of data, quantifiable data and balance that on a play with more qualitative data to get a full picture of what's happening in the classrooms, we will talk about the role administrators play and how they should be ready to make best use of a framework, and the resources that have to go along with this.

Rich Crandall: There's a few areas, that I want give a little credibility to Debra Duvall. She was put in a very -

Andrew Morill: Absolutely.

Lisa Graham Keegan: I agree.

Rich Crandall: She was told, ok, you are going to come in, you have to work with volunteers and committees, and the two full-time people are here to help you, but they also have, they have full-time jobs. They are only going to help you with whatever they have. You can't compete with Delaware and Tennessee who hired major firms and everything to do their applications for them. Deb did incredible considering what she had to work with.

Andrew Morill: I think everybody was rooting for this and rooting for her, both at same time. She did face an enormous amount of constraints.

Lisa Graham Keegan: She was the best thing about our -

Ted Simons: With all of this in mind, with the idea what should be done, what may have gone wrong or just wasn't quite up to snuff in the first attempt, should Arizona give it another go? Because the governor is not quite so sure.

Lisa Graham Keegan: Of course! Of course! I mean, absolutely. First of all, that's a lot of money on the table to say no to these days. More importantly than the money, Arizona has got to figure out what Arizona wants for its kids. You have got a foundation running something called let's just expect more. If there's a minimalist thing that we can do, I mean, that's the most we can agree on? We should expect more? Yes, Arizona ought to do the painful work of doing it again.

Ted Simons: I ask the question because there are folks who say this takes too much time, it's too much of a diversion, and it's simply not worth it. If Arizona is not going to get even close to the top, I mean, even halfway, didn't happen in the first round.

Andrew Morrill: In the context, Race To the Top occurs between no child left behind and the reauthorization of the SEA. So we are talking about the federal role in public education, and some sort of transition. This is a moving trajectory of where the federal government will intervene or support or play a role in education, and that, too, becomes a variable. I think we we ought to do it for all the right reasons and I will still say we shouldn't do it to complete an application but to tell ourselves what we want off the our public education system or public schools and ultimately the future in the state.

Ted Simons: Should we go again?

Rich Crandall: Absolutely. The one thing I told the governor's office, told the speaker of the house and a few other key education leaders is, think back to PHAROAH of Egypt. He said we know we will be starving for accept years. I don't care what you need do make sure we can eat for those seven years. That's what we need to do. We only have eight to 10 weeks to get this application together again. The governor needs to have a key person who she gives tremendous power and authority to to make it happen.

Ted Simons: We will stop right there.

Rich Crandall: And Rich has no idea who that should be.

Ted Simons: We will stop it right there. Thank you very much for joining us.

Rich Crandall:Chair of the House Education Committee;Lisa Graham Keegan:former Arizona Superintendent of Schools;Andrew Morrill:Vice President of the Arizona Education Association;

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