Race To The Top Program Invites School Districts to Apply: What RTT-D Means for Stations
May 31, 2012
The latest round of the U.S. Department of Education's Race To The Top (RTT) program will provide funds to school districts, instead of states, as has been the case in previous competitions. Overall, the Department is focusing on districts that will evaluate teacher, principal, superintendent and school board effectiveness in improving student achievement. However, there is an important hook for public media and digital content development, as well.
Before the guidelines for the new program, called Race To The Top District (RTT-D) are finalized, the Department is accepting public comment on the recently-released proposed requirements for the new program, APTS, through the Grant Center, has submitted comments about ways to improve the program. Here, we'll share our initial analysis of the proposed program, as well as opportunities for stations -- even if the proposed requirements become the final grant requirements.
Overall, the proposed priorities include many leverage points for stations to use while approaching school districts for partnerships. The Department also mentions providing digital resources, although always with an "as appropriate" caveat. (The priorities would be more in line with Department's purported commitment to building students' technological literacy if digital elements were fully integrated and non-negotiable.)
Absolute Priority: Personalized Learning
In the proposed priorities, an applicant must address this absolute priority on Personalized Learning Environments:
"To meet this priority, the application must coherently and comprehensively address how it will significantly improve teaching and learning through the personalization of strategies, tools and supports for teachers and students that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards (as defined in this document); increase the effectiveness of educators and expand student access to the most effective educators in order to raise student achievement; decrease the achievement gap across student groups and increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers."
Although the word "digital" is never mentioned, we know that the use of high-quality digital educational content and services, like those created and provided by public media, make all of these activities more possible and more effective.
Selection Criteria: Learning
Applications must also include a plan for "an approach to learning that engages and empowers all learners, in particular high needs students, in an age appropriate manner, through the use of high-quality content aligned with college- and career-ready standards, frequently updated data about individual student progress and intervention support options." This plan must include "high-quality content, including digital learning content as appropriate, aligned with college- and career-ready standards."
"Engaging and empowering" students is new language from the Department, and it is an interesting hook for stations to use when offering content or services to school districts. Ready To Learn programs have been proven effective and engaging for students, and American Graduate programs are designed specifically to improve engagement for high-need students. While the language as it stands provides opportunities for stations to lend support to school district applicants, we think more could be done to integrate digital content and services into the mandate for effective learning strategies.
Selection Criteria: Teaching
In the section on teachers, the Department requires applicants to include a plan for "teaching that empowers educators to improve instruction and increase effectiveness at supporting student progress toward meeting college- and career-ready graduation requirements (as defined in this document) by enabling the full implementation of personalized teaching and learning for all students." This includes educators having access to "high-quality learning resources (e.g., instructional content and assessments), including digital resources, as appropriate, that are aligned with college- and career-ready standards and the tools to create and share new resources."
Public media has materials to provide school districts as evidence of past effectiveness for this section, as well. From TeacherLine resources to the professional development materials available for most Ready To Learn content, public media has been an effective provider of teacher tools for a long time.
Competitive Preference Priority: Partnerships
The proposed criteria for RTT-D includes a "Results, Resource Alignment and Integrated Services" competitive preference priority that enables an eligible applicant to receive extra points on an application based on the extent to which it integrates public and private resources to augment the schools' core resources by providing additional student and family supports, such as addressing the social-emotional, behavioral and other needs of the participating students. This priority strongly favors applicants that have standing formal relationships with external partners, with proven results and a strong data system in place. All stations, and especially those with strong relationships with their school districts, should consider leveraging this competitive opportunity.
Definition of Digital Learning Content
The Department defines digital learning content as "Learning materials and resources that can be displayed on a digital device and shared electronically with other users. Digital learning content includes both open and/or commercial content."
While this does include just about everything that television or radio stations could produce, it could also be much more specific. Adding one digital textbook is not enough to improve students' capacity for technology and digital learning. Stations provide much bolder and more effective content and resources, and it isn't enough to just "check a box" on digital, when such valuable materials are available through providers like public media.
Finally, an important fact to recognize is that while this application provides several entry points to meaningful partnerships between school districts and public media stations, the primary elements of the RTT-D program focus on:
- The design and implementation of evaluation systems that include student growth as a significant factor for teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards.
- Robust data systems that have individual teacher identifiers with a teacher-student match and the ability to match student level P-12 and higher education data.
If a school district cannot implement or is not interested in implementing these kinds of systems, even the strongest station partnership will not guarantee that the district will apply.
APTS, through the Grant Center, has submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education on these proposed priorities. We will keep you informed of the results and publicize the final RFP after the Department announces it. Please contact Meegan White with any questions.