Mass. Hopes For Better Grade After Finishing 13th In Education 'Race'

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Massachusetts is not receiving highly-anticipated federal grants for education reform as only two states — Delaware and Tennessee — won funding in the first round of the "Race to the Top" competition.

Massachusetts will have to reapply to have any chance of receiving funds. The state will also have to make a lot of changes.

Many thought Massachusetts — with a history of leading the nation in education reform — would be first in line for the "Race" education grants, but the state was ranked 13th out of 16 finalists. Education officials, lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick had expected the state would be granted the $287 million it sought.

"I’m obviously disappointed but the process isn’t over as you know there’s a second round and we expect to be competitive in that," Patrick said.

Indeed, though Delaware and Tennessee were granted nearly $700 million, there is still $3.4 billion to be distributed.  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that failure in the first round should not discourage states.

"We said we would set a high bar for success because we know that real and meaningful change in public education will only come from doing the hard work and setting the highest expectation," Duncan said.

In the federal government's detailed application review, Massachusetts was primarily penalized in the area of developing teachers and leaders. Reviewers took off points for the state's lack of an incentives plan offered to teachers who work in low-income schools. They also penalized Massachusetts for not making sure all high-poverty areas have effective staff.

Additionally, reviewers pointed out that last year only a quarter of the state’s teachers were evaluated, which made reviewers skeptical that a new model would “bear fruit." The state was also faulted for not planning to adopt standards within a required deadline.

Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville said the state would, in part, study the winning applications.

"I think we should take a look at what they are doing in Delaware and Tennessee and that would be of primary interest to us," he said. "At the same time what works in one context doesn’t always work in another."

One clear advantage Delaware and Tennessee held is that all their schools agreed to participate. And in Tennessee, 93 percent of the state’s teachers unions back the education reform plan. Massachusetts’ application says only 72 percent of public school students would benefit from the grant money because only 65 percent of the local school systems support it.

Many of the districts that failed to support the application did not have the support of teachers unions as some union members are leery of close cooperation with the state.

"Some places if they haven’t had a good history of working together were nervous about it," said Ann Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. "And I think a lot of places are involved in initiatives for improving and they felt (they) couldn’t take on another."

Wass said she called state education leaders to see how they can work together to submit a better application for the second round.

Translating these rankings into school grades, the winners received a "B+" and Massachusetts received a "B-." Education leaders are confident the state can bring up its grade in the next application round, which is due June 1. But there is a lengthy list of things to improve, and some of them are sensitive.

This program aired on March 30, 2010.


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