Once Again: Why We Lost RTTT

Everyone's still gorging on the Race To The Top/Schundler/Christie remainders but let’s ignore for just a moment the mass media conviction that the entire mess can be reduced to a botched 5-point question and go back to the federal Reviewers Comments on our application one last time. (Okay, okay, a couple of worthy items today: Bret Schundler is falling on his sword and claiming that he personally edited out the correct answer to the 5-point financial question [see Statehouse Bureau here], although NJ Spotlight reports that the NJ DOE’s consultant on Race To The Top, Wireless Generation, Inc., hired without the typical bidding process for a cool $180K, may have been responsible for final proofreading)

Had your fix? Let's return to the object of all this turmoil, our RTTT application comments, for a couple of highlights (culled from personal hobbyhorses):

NJ’s high school graduation rate, touted by the NJEA as proof of our educational greatness and equity, and completely skewed by alternative proficiency assessments (ameliorated recently through the replacement of the SRA by the ASHA) and lack of consistency among high school curricula:

Reviewer #1"“Increasing the graduation rate may initially prove more difficult as the state has been inflating it and nearly one-third of LEA’s did not sign on to support this goal.”

Reviewer #4:“New Jersey acknowledges that its historical graduation rate data is unrealistically inflated and has plans to implement a new tracking system soon. Some available data shows low graduation rates for Hispanic and African-American students. There is no evidence that graduation rates have improved.”

One more hobbyhorse: our Interdistrict Public School Choice Program, marketed as a vehicle to expand opportunities for kids trapped in chronically failing schools. The category on the RTTT application is (F)(2): “Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools,” a 40-point section divided into 5 parts worth 8 points each. The last 8-pointer, part e, is “Allowing LEA’s to operate other innovative autonomous public schools.” We filled in the blank with our Interdistrict Program, which is severely limited by various preconditions. (See this post.) From reviewers’ comments:
Reviewer #1: "In 1999, NJ’s Legislature adopted the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program to allow LEA’s to open enrollment of specific public schools. NJ’s example is limited."

Reviewer #2: "As New Jersey lists just one example of the state’s enabling innovative, autonomous schools – an open enrollment program for specified schools that is considered a success (but reasons for its success were not included), low points were awarded."

Reviewer #3: "There is a brief discussion of interdistrict choice which is really a program for individual students. There was no discussion of innovative schools or public academies that are or might become autonomous. There are no points awarded for this section."

Reviewer #4: "NJ did not provide convincing information that it enables LEA’s to operate innovative autonomous public schools other than charter schools. The application evidence included references to the Interdistrict Public School Program which provides for open enrollment schools, but NJ did not provide evidence that the schools have “flexibility and authority to define their instructional models and associated curricula…There was no information regarding how these schools would be innovative."

Reviewer #5: "NJ allows “interdistrict school choice” to allow students to attend schools outside their home LEA. However, this does not mean that innovative, autonomous public schools are supported. The response qualifies for no points on this criterion."

Might it not be a better use of our time to look at a substantive category – operating innovative schools that offer opportunity for children trapped in failing LRE’s – rather than the hyped-up 5-pointer? Hey – if we’d been able to answer this last question successfully, not only would we have won Race To The Top, but some of our neediest kids would currently have access to an efficient and thorough education. Talk about efficient and thorough.