U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sat down with Mayor Karl Dean and Director of Schools Jesse Register on Tuesday, time the trio used to discuss Tennessee’s efforts to land coveted federal “Race to the Top” funds.
Duncan, in Nashville yesterday for the Federal Student Aid Conference, is obligated to distribute financial resources to five to 10 states that show a commitment to reform, according to the “Race to the Top” initiative outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Up to $400 million is believed available for each state.
Under the program, federal officials are to award states that show innovation in teacher effectiveness, school turnaround, data systems and standardized assessments.
“One of the critical things that led to this meeting was the fact that this city has been on a journey of urban school reform in the last couple of years,” Dean said. “And Dr. Register is pushing this forward.”
Highlights of that “journey” include Dean’s recruitment of Teach For America and the New Teacher Project to Nashville, the launching of a new after-school programming initiative, and Dean and Register’s recently formed task force assigned to analyze alternative pay structures for teachers. On the state level, the legislature last session passed sweeping charter school reform, opening eligibility to thousands more students.
“I think it’s very significant to note that the secretary of education is not just after the status quo,” Register said. “He’s looking for a few states that are ready to break the mold.”
A group of Tennessee superintendents Monday met with Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Tim Webb and officials from Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration to discuss the state’s attempt to score the dollars.
That gathering followed a letter written by the Coalition of Large School Systems — a group comprised of the state’s five largest school district’s — that called for “collective strength” among the state and school systems to improve Tennessee’s candidacy.
“We feel like we’re very well-positioned in Tennessee to be one of the five to 10 states in the country that are ready to take aggressive action to reform public education,” Register said. “We think we’re being received very, very well.”
One of the strong points for Metro Nashville Public Schools in helping the state’s bid to bring home the dollars could be the recruitment of statistician Dr. William Sanders, known to some as the “father of value-added data.”
Rather than comparing students to other classmates when assessing performance, the value-added approach compares students to themselves year to year so results are not skewed by income, parental involvement or gender.
“We actually talked about the work Dr. Sanders has done here,” Register. “It absolutely puts us I think out front in the country because of the value-added data that we have.”