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Must-See TV: Race to Top Presentations Debut Online

For those of us who've been breathlessly anticipating the videos of the Race to the Top finalists' final presentations, the wait is over.

Click here to get to the Education Department's page. You'll find the videos tucked into those little boxes where a state's application is.

I quickly perused a few videos and noticed, first thing, that you NEVER see the Race to the Top judges. The Education Department even went so far as to bleep out any audio references to the judges' names, so it's impossible to know which judge is asking which question. I don't understand why the department did that since the names of all the reviewers are public now.

Let's just say these videos don't provide much in the way of visual entertainment, only static, wide shots of the five state presenters, mixed occasionally with Power Point slides.

Now that I've dispensed with my superficial critique, let's talk about the substance of these things, starting with New York, one of two states that lost a few points after its presentation. I skipped the 30-minute presentation and turned to the hour-long Q and A with the judges.

I've been as interested in sizing up the judges' performances as the state teams' themselves, and, right out of the gate, this panel of judges had tough questions for the New York team, which included state Education Commissioner David Steiner.

One judge pressed the team members on how New York's current charter school cap would inhibit the proliferation of new charters.

A second judge peppered them with questions about how they would implement new teacher evaluations and other controversial teacher-related initiatives on a wide scale without having more robust support from local teachers' unions. And one peer reviewer—noting how difficult it is to judge a state's credibility when it comes to actually executing a Race to the Top plan—challenged the panel to explain why it didn't bring an employee from the New York City school district, since much of the state's application is based on reforms initiated in the city that would be expanded statewide. (Note: Robert Hughes, the president of New Visions for New Schools, a reform organization which works directly with roughly 75 NYC public schools, was on the New York panel.)

Toward the end of the presentation, this simple, concrete question jumped out at me: "What's going to be looking different in your high school classrooms?"

If you fast forward to about the 45 minute point of the Q and A video, you'll find Commissioner Steiner's full answer, but here's an excerpt:

"Teachers are going to be freed to teach quality material that is sequential, and is sequenced from what came before," he said. "They will know what students have learned before... The actual atmosphere in a classroom, the interaction between a student and a teacher will be different as a result of all the things that we put in place. And parents, districts, communities, will have a level of transparency around what's going on in the schools that they've never had before."

There are 15 more of these videos to plow through, so any of you who take the time and effort to do it, feel free to contribute a review in this space.

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