Race to the Top: Following Through on What We Started

With the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, officially concluded, states and districts should resist the temptation to try new reforms and should focus on improving implementation of the initiatives adopted to increase student success and close achievement gaps. We need to get better at following through on what we begin, rather than constantly shifting to new ideas just because they’re new.

Education First helped Hawai’i, Maryland, Ohio and Tennessee win their grants and we provided technical assistance to all 19 RTTT states through the U.S. Department of Education’s Reform Support Network. We also supported non-RTTT states and districts to design and implement similar reforms. We know that states and districts need more than five years to succeed with these ambitious reforms.

In Race to the Top: Following Through on What We’ve Started, we map out 10 Action Steps to help states, districts and educators strengthen policy and implementation. The brief also includes promising practices from leading states and districts, as well as areas where states still have room to improve. We drew from our extensive experience to recommend these 10 Action Steps that state and local education leaders can take to follow through on their commitments:

  1. Help educators access high-quality teaching materials aligned to college and career readiness standards.
  2. Stick with high-quality, annual, state summative assessments to measure student progress toward standards—and explain why assessments matter.
  3. Rethink local assessments systems to emphasize fewer, better and essential assessments, and help teachers with assessment literacy.
  4. Develop school leaders’ skills to understand, observe, evaluate and improve standards-aligned instruction.
  5. Adopt school models that allow the most effective teachers to both work directly with students in classrooms and lead, coach, support and mentor other teachers.
  6. Create, refresh or close and restart schools so that every student can attend an outstanding public school—traditional or public charter.
  7. Increase the quality of evaluations by expanding the observer pool and including student surveys.
  8. Maintain student growth data in educator evaluations, but adjust the weights and measures for educators in different grades, subjects and roles.
  9. Use state resources to monitor achievement gaps and re-envision accountability gaps.
  10. Build broader coalitions to improve implementation and prevent policies from backsliding, while continuously gathering data and improving new standards, assessments and evaluation systems.

The reforms states and districts are undertaking are vital but difficult—which is why they’re controversial. States and districts must continue to adjust policies and support better implementation. In a country so in love with innovation, it’s time to think of follow through as the new innovation.

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