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3 Lessons Learned From Race to the Top

As we mark the fifth anniversary of the initial Race to the Top (RTT) competition, I'd like to consider professional learning's role and how we'll use information from Race to the Top to advance the field.

In terms of professional learning, I see three big lessons that emerge from Race to the Top.

First, and this is certainly obvious--resources and accountability allow states to invest in deep implementation of education initiatives. States that won RTT awards had significantly fewer barriers to investing in professional learning as a key element of their improvement strategy. State chiefs had the resources to advance their improvement agendas and to mobilize educators to achieve them.

 Second, the nature of this initiative encouraged states to take different approaches in their improvement strategies. States and their educators benefit when they can personalize solutions to the specific contexts in which they operate. Meanwhile, the federal government and educators across the nation learn from the development, implementation, and evaluation of multiple approaches.

While we don't fully understand the outcomes from RTT, we do have early indicators that some of the professional learning models in different states are finding success.

Massachusetts, for example, has helped its school systems to focus on planning and assessment of professional learning. Tennessee invested heavily in coaches statewide to support educators. Rhode Island used job-embedded professional learning to help teachers develop, understand, and refine powerful classroom lessons. Maryland used an academy model to reach every teacher in the state. Kentucky developed a comprehensive professional learning system and established a statewide network to bring support to all educators.

 Finally, my third lesson is one that leaves us with questions. The approaches I cited appear to align with Learning Forward's definition of effective professional learning by embedding learning in schools and building capacity at every level within a coordinated system tied to teacher and leader effectiveness, standards implementation, and other school initiatives. Such professional learning increases coherence, reduces fragmentation, and ultimately leads to better practices for adults and results for students. When Race to the Top ends, will these changes be sustained or will states and systems return to old ways of practice?

How will the federal government promote the newer, more powerful practices? How will the federal government support states with their efforts to build coherent and aligned systems of professional learning? Will the federal government examine ongoing funding streams and support the kinds of flexibility that allow educators to craft, based on evidence, the solutions that best meet their needs? Will federal funding be attached in the future to the kinds of professional learning most likely to lead to results - that is, professional learning based on Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning? Will the federal government conduct its own examination of these lessons and consider what it will do to leverage this information and support states' efforts to ensure every educator engages in professional learning that advances student achievement? 

Stephanie Hirsh

Executive Director, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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