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Race to the Top: A Quick Look at Delaware's Bid

It would be a tall order to read every page of 41 Race to the Top applications, but over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a crack at highlighting pieces of some states' bids for a slice of the $4 billion prize.

Today, we'll look at Delaware, a state that is generally regarded as being at the head of the pack when it comes to teacher and principal evaluations and having a useful student data system, two key priorities of the Race to the Top competition.

Delaware's pitch stands out for its proposal on school turnarounds, particularly its emphasis on what amounts to veto power for the state education secretary when it comes to selecting intervention methods for low-performing schools. (See sections E1 and E2 of the application narrative for full details.)

Under new regulations, Lillian M. Lowery, who is the current education secretary, can order any of Delaware's lowest-performing schools to participate in the state's "partnership zone," which effectively forces the leaders in those school districts to choose one of the four turnaround models outlined by the U.S. Department of Education: restart, turnaround, transformation, or closure. If district leaders and their union counterparts either disagree on how to overhaul a particular school or submit a proposal for turnaround that the secretary deems weak, she can override it. In the event that a particular turnaround model doesn't deliver improved results within two years, the secretary can demand a do-over.

By being in the state's partnership zone, though, districts are assured a level of operational flexibility and support from outside organizations to take on the difficult work of school turnaround. You can read about Delaware's participation in this six-state partnership zone project here. And here's a story on the state's application from The News Journal in Wilmington.

Finally, as each state goes about trying to distinguish its sales pitch from everyone else's, this pragmatic argument from Delaware struck me as a smart point to make:

"...Delaware brings another advantage to its reform - its size. With just 126,800 students, 19 districts, and 18 charters, Delaware is small enough to make true statewide reform achievable."
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