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Chiefs for Change Worried About Race to Top Delays

The state education commissioners in the Chiefs for Change group are urging U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to stick to his guns as states implement their Race to the Top promises—and as many of those states push back their timelines.

In an Aug. 25 letter to Duncan, the chiefs, who advocate for "visionary education reform," wrote:

"We understand implementation plans and scopes of work may require adjustments, such as with the timelines; however, in the spirit of the Race to the Top competition, Race to the Top winners must be held accountable for improving the academic achievement of all students and for fully implementing their Race to the Top proposals."

What this group of 10 chiefs is referring to is the number of changes the Education Department has allowed states to make as they implement their Race to the Top plans. States have scaled back their plans in some cases and delayed projects.

The letter followed a call Rhode Island commissioner Deb Gist and other chiefs had with Duncan to voice concerns that the goals of Race to the Top might be watered down during implementation, according to spokeswoman for the chiefs.

But even some of the Chiefs for Change states have submitted amendments to their Race to the Top plans and shifted timelines.

One amendment from Rhode Island delays the awarding of grants to expand high-performing charter schools by at least a year. And, that amendment also allows Rhode Island to slightly delay implementing its new educator certification system. For the first time that I've seen, the department is threatening enforcement action—the withholding of $18 million in Race to the Top funds—against Rhode Island if the state doesn't "substantially comply" with its timeline for finishing a new teacher certification system. (UPDATE, 9/1: The department threatened Delaware about six weeks ago with enforcement action, including the withholding of $13 million, after the state pushed back deadlines affecting part of its new teacher evaluation system. Thanks to colleague Sean Cavanagh for digging this one up.)

Florida and Tennessee, each led by a chief for change, have more minor amendments on file.

However, other states have hit far bigger hurdles. New York saw its new teacher-evaluation system struck down by a state court, and a contract to create a new data system got caught up in the Rupert Murdoch/News Corp. hacking scandal and has been shelved. Both are key parts of the state's Race to the Top plan.

Hawaii has also encountered problems implementing its teacher-evaluation system.

This is hard work, especially since states pulled out all the stops to win the money and now must deliver on their promises. And in some states, leadership has changed and the folks who are left to implement the plan aren't the ones who wrote it. So it makes sense that the department gives states some wiggle room as they bring their Race to the Top plans to life. But many folks are worried about whether some states (New York and Hawaii have been named) will be able to live up to their end of the bargain.

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