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Changes on the Horizon for TIF?

For the next round of the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants, the U.S. Department of Education plans to make some alterations to the program, officials said this week at a meeting of TIF grantees.

Don't go panicking yet. The impression from the meeting was that the changes will be relatively minor, and meant to build on the lessons learned from the first three rounds of TIF grants.

TIF is the administration's premier teacher-quality competitive grant. It was first proposed and funded under the Bush administration to help seed teacher and principal performance-pay systems. When the Obama administration came on board, it made some major changes through the federal-rulemaking process, broadening it somewhat to put more emphasis on teacher evaluations and professional development as part of the systems.

It also allowed applicants to bid for one year of planning before implementing the new systems. And the department created a separate competition allowing some grantees to get additional money for participating in a randomized field evaluation. (This kind of program evaluation, you may remember, was a requirement of the $200 million in TIF funding provided through the 2009 economic-stimulus package.)

For the fourth round of TIF, which will begin with FY 2012 funds, the department will issue a new proposed set of criteria for public input and revision, said Jo Anderson, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The proposed criteria will come out in the fall and will probably be finalized in early 2012.

And what tweaks are under discussion this time? For one, the option of a planning year will remain, but it may look a little different. The department wants to see a lot of evidence that applicants are engaged in front-end planning on their pay and evaluation systems before they go ahead and apply for the grant. (Apparently, nearly all of the Round 3 winners ended up requesting a planning year.)

Second, ED officials will eliminate the separate evaluation competition. Many interested districts found that a hard sell for their constituents.

Mr. Anderson also said he felt one mistake of the existing TIF competition was that, while the rules required districts to obtain union consent to the plans, where applicable, by the end of the planning year, they didn't require unions to participate in the drafting of the original plans. It's pretty hard for unions to feel ownership of these systems, Anderson noted, unless they're involved from beginning to end in their development.

While he didn't specify whether this will be fixed in the new set of rules, this is another area to keep your eyes on.

Finally, the first round of grantees, from 2006, is now coming up to its fifth and final year of federal funding, and many of them want to know whether they'll be permitted to re-up for the next round. Stay tuned!

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