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Letters from Arne: On Cheating, and RTTT Early-Ed. Contest

States should take note of two policy letters U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent out recently.

First, in this June 24 letter, Duncan gives states a heads-up on the third round of Race to the Top, or the $500 million competition to reward states for their proposals to improve early education.

It seems that as states work on their applications to receive Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) money, they should do so with an eye toward winning—if that's what they want—the next Race to the Top. The CCDF is a block grant program run through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that assists states in helping low-income families with child care.

The relevant material from Duncan's letter says:

"We anticipate that the RTT-ELC (Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge) grant competition will consider how States plan to use CCDF funds, especially through State initiatives to improve quality.

"Successful RTT-ELC applicants will use the CCDF Plan to set forth a strategic plan for helping more children from low-income families access higher quality care. CCDF Plans are due on August 1, 2011, but HHS will accept revisions as you finalize your RTT-ELC applications."

The letter also states that "by July," more information about the competition will be revealed. So it seems that details could be coming soon.

In another letter, Duncan reminds states about the importance of data integrity. This is an especially important message since so many of his reform ideas center on data, and yet we're hearing more and more about test cheating allegations.

UPDATE: Although the letter wasn't in response to any one incident, I'm told, Duncan wanted to convey this message at the end of the school year—as states are beginning to compile data—and in light of cheating incidents over the last couple of years.

His letter states:

"... even the hint of testing irregularities and misconduct in the test administration process could call into question school reform efforts and undermine the State accountability systems that you have painstakingly built over the past decade."

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