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Extra Homework Applying for Education Grants

Ohanian Comment: The latest outrage of Race to the Top is that Joanne Weiss, the director of this skullduggery, estimates it takes 681 hours for state ed departments to complete. That's the "equivalent of one civil servant working full time for 17 weeks." Weiss says states can take a shorter time or they can take a longer time--that's their choice. And that's about the only choice states have under Race to the Top. Everything else is mandated: no restraints on charters, reward teachers according to their student test scores, and so on.

Before being tapped by Arne Duncan, Joanne Weiss was COO of New School Venture Fund, which funneled millions in private money to charter management organizations. You begin to see how tangled it all gets when you know that the head of the California State Board of Education, Ted Mitchell, is also CEO of New School Venture Fund. Just one big happy family at the public trough with the U. S. Dept of Education now forcing states to dump money into the trough. Duncan calls it "lifting caps on charters."

In describing Race to the Top to the "education leaders, principal trainers and researchers" attending Wallace Foundation National Conference October 14-16, 2009, Weiss gave an overview of the plan:

  • incent and reward states

  • not a pick and choose menu

  • all fronts assault on the inertia that has stalled so many reforms

  • Yes, incent as a verb. Direct quote.

    I suspect that teachers and principals stagger under so many outrages that they can't get up the energy to care about this one. Maybe this explains the silence.

    Jim Horn comments on this article at Schools Matter.

    by Sam Dillon

    WASHINGTON â The Department of Education, preparing to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to winning states in a $4 billion grant competition, has estimated how long it should take each state to prepare its grant proposal: 681 hours.

    Not 680, not 700, but 681 hours.

    "Nice round number â how'd they come up with that one?" said Lee Sensenbrenner, chief of staff to Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin.

    The thousands of state officials who are working feverishly to prepare proposals are not only stunned by the precision of the estimate, but many of them also say it grossly underestimates the amount of work they have to do.

    "We've put in well above that already," said Rick Miller, a deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education. "It's all I've done for months, so my time alone would almost get us there."

    Joanne Weiss, director of the Race to the Top competition at the Department of Education, acknowledges that 681 is just an estimate. "States are welcome to spend more or less time," she said.

    The 681-hour figure is the equivalent of one civil servant working full time for 17 weeks.

    Ms. Weiss and her team arrived at that number, she said, through a "ground-up analysis of what it would take to answer each question, prepare budgets and so on."

    In its draft guidelines for the competition, issued in July, the department estimated 642 hours, but it tacked on 39 additional hours to its final estimate published last month because the rules had gotten more complicated.

    States have until Jan. 19 to submit applications for the competition's first round and until June for the second, and officials describe it as a challenging task. States must outline their long-term agenda for improving public education and bolster their case with a history of progress already made on raising student achievement.

    They must detail how their state intends to develop and adopt higher academic standards, to shake up its systems for evaluating and compensating teachers, and to use data more extensively to improve student learning. Also, they must lay out strategies for overhauling their worst schools, which in big states number in the hundreds.

    The federal department has suggested that state proposals be no more than 100 pages long, with appendices not exceeding 250 pages.

    So far, about 40 states have told the department that they intend to submit first-round applications, and officials in many of those states say they and their colleagues have already chalked up more than 681 hours.

    One of the most time-consuming tasks has been lining up written statements of support signed by superintendents and other officials in every school district that would receive grant money. California alone has about 1,000 districts, so getting the word out to each of them and cajoling their local leaders to send in signed agreements has taken much of Mr. Miller's time, he said.

    "Itâs what I do every day â Iâve talked to four superintendents this morning," Mr. Miller said by telephone. He thought a moment, then added: "Sorry, Iâve got to get off the phone. I'm wasting time â youâre killing me with all these questions!"

    Illinois has 870 school districts, said Darren Reisberg, a deputy superintendent at the Illinois State Board of Education, so he, too, along with the state superintendent, Christopher Koch, has been talking up Illinois' proposal with officials in hundreds of districts.

    "That's something Dr. Koch and I are doing just about every day, all day," Mr. Reisberg said.

    Competition for the federal grants is especially intense because state budgets are distressed and awards for states the size of Illinois could be $400 million. Several nonprofit organizations have handicapped states' chances in the competition. The nonprofit New Teacher Project, for instance, months ago rated Illinois as "somewhat competitive." Florida and Louisiana were the only two states the project rated as "highly competitive."

    Florida officials say they know they have a shot at the prize money. "But our commissioner has directed us to pretend that we're not even hearing that," said Holly Edenfield, an executive director at the Florida Department of Education who is coordinating work to prepare the state's proposal. She has not calculated how many hours she and her colleagues have logged so far.

    "We just know our effort is immense and time-consuming," Ms. Edenfield said.

    The Florida department headquarters in Tallahassee has become a 17-story beehive of Race to the Top activity, said Tom Butler, a spokesman.

    "Every time I ride the elevator in the morning, and every time I leave at night, there's a common conversation about Race to the Top that you can have with any of the 1,000 people who work here," Mr. Butler said, "because every person is involved."

    — Sam Dillon
    New York Times


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