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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Race to the Top

To:Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D, Commissioner
Date:September 11, 2009


On July 25, 2009, President Obama released the draft Request for Proposals for the long-awaited Race to the Top grant program. Race to the Top represents an unprecedented opportunity to build on what has been successful here in Massachusetts and to catalyze new ideas that we would not have been able to pursue without additional funding. Through this program, Massachusetts has the opportunity to secure as much as $100 million or more for education over the next several years.

The grant requires states to develop a comprehensive plan to address what the federal authorities have identified as four key education reform "assurance" areas: standards and assessments, data systems to support instruction, great teachers and leaders, and turning around struggling schools.

We were pleased to see that the assurance areas mesh well with the Board's goals and priorities and with Governor Patrick's Readiness and overall education reform agenda. RTTT will therefore provide us with a unique opportunity to accelerate and expand our work in areas we have already identified as critical to our mission. We anticipate using the funding to support short-term investments in infrastructure, human capital, and systems that will have a long-term payoff for, the students of the Commonwealth, as well as targeted proofs of concept of potential reform strategies that we can evaluate for consideration for broad-scale funding and expansion after the grant ends.

Public comment on the proposed regulations was due on August 21. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education collaborated with the Executive Office of Education to send in a single set of comments representing both agencies, a copy of which is attached. We expect to receive the final regulations in late October or early November, and applications will be due 60 days after the regulations are issued.

In the meantime, we have already begun the challenging work of developing our proposal. We are fortunate to have received the support of the Gates Foundation to engage the Bridgespan Group in this work. Bridgespan will be supporting us in the process of conceptualizing, developing, writing, and submitting our proposal, as well as conducting outreach with stakeholders to ensure that we have the benefit of their ideas and their support.

Our leadership team for this effort includes myself, Karla Baehr, Jeff Nellhaus, Bob Bickerton, Lynda Foisy, David Haselkorn, Carrie Conaway, and Heidi Guarino from DESE as well as Secretary Paul Reville, J.D. LaRock, and Saeyun Lee from the Executive Office of Education (EOE).

Summary of proposed requirements

The proposed regulations for the Race to the Top (RTTT) fund specify a number of eligibility requirements, funding priorities, and selection criteria.

Funding priorities

In addition to addressing the four assurances, applicants will also receive points for addressing policy issues related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Invitational priorities (areas that will not earn points but that we may address) include expansion and adaptation of statewide longitudinal data systems, P-20 (i.e., preschool through higher education) coordination and vertical alignment, and school-level conditions for reform and innovation.

The proposed regulations require that 50 percent of any funding the state receives from the grant be distributed to districts through the Title I formula. Still unclear is whether the districts receive this money only if they agree to participate in the policies and programs being funded under the grant. We have requested clarification on this point in the comments we have submitted.

Eligibility requirements

In order to be eligible to apply, a state must demonstrate that:

  1. Its application for funding under Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) has been approved. We expect to have our SFSF application approved well before the RTTT grant deadline.
  2. It does not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation. Massachusetts meets this requirement.

Selection criteria

Applications will be rated on 19 criteria, all of which we need to address in our proposal.

Standards and Assessments

  1. Developing and adopting common standards
  2. Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments
  3. Supporting transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments

Data Systems to Support Instruction

  1. Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system
  2. Accessing and using state data
  3. Using data to improve instruction

Great Teachers and Leaders

  1. Providing alternative pathways for aspiring teachers and principals
  2. Differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance
  3. Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals
  4. Reporting the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs
  5. Providing effective support to teachers and principals

Turning Around Struggling Schools

  1. Intervening in the lowest-performing schools and districts
  2. Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools
  3. Turning around struggling schools

Overall Criteria

  1. Demonstrating significant progress
  2. Making education funding a priority
  3. Enlisting statewide support and commitment
  4. Raising achievement and closing gaps
  5. Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale, and sustain proposed plans

We have done an initial internal assessment of where Massachusetts stands compared to other states on each of these criteria and feel confident that we will stand out as a leader in the majority of them.

Stakeholder and communication strategy

Because this grant program is wide-sweeping, many individuals, groups, and organizations have a stake in the shape of our proposal. As such, we intend to work extensively with stakeholders to gain their input for developing and refining our proposed strategies. We have established internal working groups around each of the four assurance areas including staff from both DESE and EOE and will bring in local and national experts as advisors. We will also establish a working group for stakeholders with concerns that cut across the four areas, such as superintendents, union leaders, and the business community.

The Board will have ample opportunity to provide input and feedback at key stages in the process. I intend to put RTTT on every Board agenda until the end of the year and will keep you updated as our work with Bridgespan continues and our proposal begins to take shape.


Last Updated: September 16, 2009
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