Hoping Race to the Top Spurs Colorado Funding, Teacher, STEM Innovations

Katie Redding at the Colorado Independent reported yesterday on the official recommendations for Colorado’s application to receive Race to the Top federal reform dollars. One of my Education Policy Center friends got a chance to chime in:

Ben DeGrow, education policy analyst for the free-market Independence Institute, found much to like about the application, particularly the suggestions to provide financial incentives to teachers and to attach higher funding to high-risk students (which he noted would give parents more choice about which schools could best serve their students.)

There’s only so much reasonable space in an article like that one, so Ben asked me to revise and extend his remarks a bit. The “higher funding to high-risk students” is really a call for a widespread move to a transparent Weighted Student Funding formula that empowers parents and school-level leaders at the expense of central administration bureaucrats. Ben further cited Cole Arts and Science Academy as Colorado’s premier example of “Turning Around Low-Performing Schools.”

The financial incentives for teachers should be strongly attached to demonstrated individual and group performance in raising student academic outcomes, and for taking on challenging school assignments. In addition, Ben suggested the “Teachers and Leaders” portion of the Race to the Top recommendations ought to include a focus on expanding the pipeline into the teaching profession through more high-quality alternative certification programs.

Another focus area for the Race to the Top grant is in the area of STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). That’s why it’s amazing that Jefferson County — Colorado’s largest school district — does not have any schools with a STEM emphasis.

For this reason, Jeff Sacco and the Jeffco Energy Education Partnership are working to introduce an innovative STEM school to Jeffco. Under the district’s purview, as a charter school or some other design, I don’t know. But if done right, it looks very much like a worthy effort — especially if Jeffco can follow in the steps of Denver’s successful School of Science and Technology.

Race to the Top’s funding is flowing from federal coffers, but here’s hoping it spurs the best kind of innovation and reform — in choice, funding, teaching, and science & technology — at both the state and local district levels.