D.C. behind schedule in meeting Race to the Top promises

In the first year of Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s signature effort to reform education, Maryland met its obligations, but the District has fallen behind schedule because of leadership turnover within its school administration, according to a report card to be released Tuesday by federal officials.

The Department of Education has been tracking the performance of the District, Maryland and 10 other states that were awarded $4 billion as part of a nationwide competition that the administration held to encourage rapid adoption of its brand of education reform.

To win the money, each state and the District crafted its own plan to improve education from kindergarten through 12th grade. All pledged to install new systems to evaluate teachers, use data to measure how well students are learning, pump new resources into troubled schools and allow or encourage public charter schools.

Federal officials found that Maryland, Massachusetts and Ohio had delivered what they promised in the first year of the four-year program, while Hawaii, New York and Florida had run into significant hurdles that threatened their grants.

Maryland, which received $250 million in the competition, had some trouble designing a teacher evaluation system acceptable to both state officials and teachers. In the end, the state moved ahead with a system over the objection of teachers, but the dispute meant a two-year pilot program had to be reduced to a single year. Still, Maryland is on track to meet its commitments, federal officials said.

The District and the other grantees — Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Tennessee — ran into challenges but are seen by federal officials as making progress.

None of the grantees has been ordered to return federal funds to date.

“Over the last year, D.C. made a great deal of progress while also facing some setbacks,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. “This is challenging work that will take continued commitment and collaboration. As D.C.’s work continues, we will support their efforts to overcome any obstacles and move forward with reform.”

Specifically, the federal report card said the District’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education, responsible for managing its $75 million grant, “experienced significant turnover among leadership and staff” in the past year. A series of staffers oversaw the grant, none of them for more than six months, the report card found.

As a result, there were delays in a districtwide system to educate teachers and parents about a new common core curriculum, in providing help to the lowest-achieving schools, and in approving plans for teacher and administrator evaluations from charter schools, among other things.

Marc Caposino, a spokesman for the superintendent of education’s office, acknowledged turnover was an issue but said a permanent manager to oversee the Race to the Top program will begin work at the end of this month.

The superintendent’s office has had a troubled history. It was created in June 2007 when D.C. schools came under mayoral control and the city’s Board of Education — which controlled budgets and hired and fired school chiefs — was disbanded.

The office, led by State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley, faces several structural challenges. It serves as a state education agency in a jurisdiction that is not a state, dealing with a school system led by a chancellor who is the city’s dominant educational figure amid a growing number of public charter schools that are separate school districts in the eyes of the law. About 40 percent of public schoolchildren in the District are now in charter schools.

Mahaley was hired nearly a year ago to run the agency, but she has been slow to fill key positions. It was mid-October before she had an assistant superintendent of early childhood education and nearly Thanksgiving before she named a director of data management, who will start work this month.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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