NJ Tip Sheet on RTTT

Democrats For Education Reform, in conjunction with the Equality Education Project and Education Reform Now, has been issuing a series of briefs intended to assist states in improving their chances for producing winning application in the Race To The Top competition. New Jersey’s “Race Smarter” brief is out today. Here’s a quick overview of DFER’s comments, based on our first application.

We have a “fighting chance” to win up to $400 million in federal grants because we earned 387 points out of 500 in our first try. However, there are two looming issues that we need to address: first, we “lack… a clear plan to translate the State Educational Agency structure into a system of strong and coordinated support for school district reform efforts.” Secondly,
While African-Americans make up 15% of the state’s K–12 student population, they represent at most 5% of those taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Latinos, who also make up 15% of the state’s student population, represent only 6% of those taking AP classes. Moreover, there are huge racial gaps on the pass rates for the national AP exams, even for those students who get to take the classes. While 85% of white students pass the AP Language and Composition test, only 49% of Latino and 46% of African-American students do.

The cumulative result: Approximately half as many African-Americans and Latinos in New Jersey (25 or older) hold a B.A. (20% and 15%) compared to their white counterparts (36%). It is clear that New Jersey’s second round application must include a detailed, bold, and ambitious high school reform agenda with the goals of dramatically increasing high schools graduation, college enrollment and completion rates for all students, with particular emphasis on students of color. Reviewers in Round 2 may also want to pay closer attention to the fact that a large number of the state’s students, and a disproportionate percentage of poor and minority students, take an “alternative” high school exit exam that is not aligned with state standards. (emphases our own; see post below.)
We lost a fair number of points in our Great Teachers and Leaders section because we need a “much more rigorous plan to evaluate teacher effectiveness” and fail to explain how we will more "equitably distribute qualified and effective teachers.” We received a low score on Data Systems because we have only partially implemented a system that links individual teachers to student growth.

The brief expresses surprise at the relatively high score awarded to Jersey in the charter school category:
[T]he state’s charter school approval process is notoriously and perpetually bottlenecked and funding for charters, in comparison to traditional schools, is inequitable. This is an area in which we recommend the state disregard an inflated Round 1 score and instead ramp up its charter school expansion activities to strengthen its Round 2 application.