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"Race to the Top" is transforming education
By Neil Steinberg / October 1, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Four Years ago, Rhode Island won a $75 million "Race to the Top" grant to help every school, teacher, and student in the state excel. My Race to the Top Steering Committee co-chair Colleen Burns Jermain joins me to look at the progress that has been made transforming education in our state.

It seems like only a short time ago, but it has been four years since that historic day when Rhode Island became one of only 12 states to receive a Race to the Top grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past four years we have lived through a historic time, as teachers, school leaders, and the team at the state Department of Education (RIDE) worked together to put this $75 million federal grant into action.

We are proud to have played a supporting role in this groundbreaking initiative. In our successful grant application, Rhode Island pledged to establish a broad-based Steering Committee to provide guidance and feedback over the course of the grant and to serve as a liaison between RIDE and various communities in the state. The committee was made up of educators, legislators, community and business leaders, union officials and representatives of charitable and nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of children and youth. We have met quarterly in public session over the past four years and as we near the end of the grant period, our official role has ended.

The goal of the Race to the Top grant has always been plain and simple: to transform education in Rhode Island so as to advance teaching and learning and to serve the best interests of Rhode Island students. Not everyone always agrees on how best to achieve these goals, and discussions about policies and strategies often arose during our meetings. Yet by working together in the interest of students, the team at RIDE and the folks from local school districts have achieved the many and varied goals set forth in the grant application.

To mention just a few of the highlights, Rhode Island has used Race to the Top funds to:

•Develop and implement the Rhode Island Educator Evaluation Model.

•Match 800 beginning educators with coaches who worked closely with them throughout their first two years of teaching.

•Build a new system for educator certification that processes applications online.

•Develop new standards for programs that prepare educators.

•Support aspiring principals through the Academy for Transformative Leadership.

•Provide professional development on the Common Core State Standards to nearly 6,000 educators.

•Work with educators in 28 school districts to develop new curriculum.

•Design a data system to provide educators with online resources on curriculum, instruction and assessment.

•Create an early warning system to provide educators with timely information on students at risk.

•Design a quarterly monitoring process to support the lowest-achieving schools.

In addition, all of our school districts describe, in their own words, some of their Race to the Top accomplishments on the Rhode Island Success Stories blog.

Has everything proceeded according to plan? With a grant of this magnitude, of course not. But where we came across bumps in the road, we regrouped and continued on with our Race to the Top. The U.S. Department of Education has recognized our effectiveness in implementing this grant and has awarded Rhode Island a no-cost, one-year extension.

The challenge now before all of us is to ensure that we continue to make progress. We need to be vigilant and engaged as we work to provide more high-quality opportunities for early learning, to close achievement gaps in all communities, to provide challenging coursework for all students, to provide social and emotional learning opportunities, to promote world languages and the use of technology, to build strong connections between our high schools and postsecondary institutions, to advance adult learning and work-force development — to name just a few initiatives that may lie on the road ahead.

With that in mind, at the final meeting of the Steering Committee we were pleased to hear from Elementary and Secondary Education Council Chair Patrick A. Guida and Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist that the Board of Education and RIDE are beginning to develop the next strategic plan for transforming Rhode Island education. They will reach out to the entire Rhode Island community for leadership and guidance.

This pledge marks a great opportunity for all of us. Whether you have been involved in the past or not, you will have a chance to speak up and be heard — so now is the time to get involved. Let’s work together to create a better education system for all of our students, families and educators.

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