As political winds have blown one way and then another over the years, federal funding for schools has changed its tune. In the current polarized environment, there are loud voices calling for the abolition of all funding for schools – don’t be frightened, this is not about to happen.
One of the roles of government in a free society is to protect those individuals who are least able to protect themselves. The federal government has played a large role in helping states, cities and towns educate the kids who need the most support. This has taken the form of Title I, but also, in the world of Common Core and No Child Left Behind, it takes the form of improvement of academic achievement and lifting all children to a place of success. This is altogether right and important.
The federal government has established a School Improvement Grant program that takes this concept to the next level. Before there were standards (some of us remember that educational wild, wild, west), let’s face it, we were graduating kids who couldn’t read. Schools in high poverty areas could not attract the best and the brightest of the teachers who were coming out of college education programs. These schools slipped into a leadership gap, and were allowed to deteriorate, pretty much unchallenged. New regulations and strict enforcement have changed that. Schools still struggle, but the spotlight is on them, we know who you are, and in general, we all want to help.
Enter School Improvement and Race to the Top.
Through Race to the Top, the federal gov’t is asking states to advance reforms around four specific areas:
- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
- Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
If you are responsible for submitting these grant applications every year, assuming your district qualifies for them, print out the list above and keep it posted by your desk, it will help you stay on track as you prioritize the spending of the funds. It’s easy to become distracted by local cries for “we need new tablet computers; the swimming pool at the high school has cracks in it”. Though important, they are sidelines to the great tasks we face as educators to raise academic achievement for all kids, making them successful in their lives.
Lately, I’ve been hearing from grant writers whose districts are concentrating on number 3 in the list above. It’s still difficult in impoverished areas to recruit and retain effective and excellent teachers to what is arguably, the toughest job in the world.
I believe there will always be people for whom teaching is a calling, a gift, and a joy. I see them every day. Finding ways to align those fresh faces with struggling and impoverished schools is the challenge. School improvement grants provide tools, guidance and funding to do just that.
Here are some examples of creative uses of RTTT and School Improvement Grant funds:
(This entire area of education is highly politicized; I present these resources with no agenda or political slant)
- Learningaccelerator.org – non-profit for helping schools implement constructive change
- From The White House – no idle observers here.
- The NEA
- Federal Register regulations explained
- Diane Ravitch – a strong voice – original view is “Our schools are not broken”
- The Tea Party and the Common Core
Let me know how you’re doing. You may network with me by leaving a comment below.