Gov. Bill Ritter announced Tuesday the state will apply for round two of the national Race to the Top competition.
State leaders learned last week that Colorado, while making the cut of 16 finalists for the $4.3 billion education reform contest, was not one of the two winners of the prize.
But Ritter said Tuesday afternoon that the state will apply for some of the $3.4 billion in Race dollars remaining in round two, which has a June 1 deadline. Winners of the second round will be announced in September.
“Colorado has broken new ground with student-centered reforms over the past three years,” Ritter said in announcing his decision. “We put together a solid Race to the Top application for Round 1 that would have allowed us to build on and accelerate the reforms that will allow all children in Colorado to reach their God-given potential.
“Our Round 2 application will make an even stronger case for how we will improve student achievement, turn around struggling schools and improve educator effectiveness.”
State leaders took a week to decide whether to be part of round two, partly because of the work involved in paring their initial $377 million application by more than half. A maximum of $175 million will be available for Colorado in the second round.
A total of 40 states and the District of Columbia applied in round one and each was given a suggested budget range based on their numbers of school-aged children. Few states kept to those estimates in the first round but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said they must do so for round two.
Colorado leaders said they also needed time to consider whether the state, which finished 14th out of the 16 finalists, would be able to improve its score. Colorado achieved 409.6 points out of a possible 500 points in round one while the winning states, Delaware and Tennessee, achieved 454.6 points and 444.2 points respectively.
Each state application had to address four broad areas. Colorado achieved 90 percent of the points possible in two areas – developing and implement high-quality standards and assessments and turning around low-achieving schools.
But the state achieved only 80 percent of points possible in its plans to fully implement a statewide data system to improve instruction and 76 percent of points possible in its plans to improve its teacher and principal workforce.
Colorado also struggled in the section of its application outlining factors likely to lead to successful implementation of its Race plan. For example, the state achieved its lowest score – 46.4 percent – in “improving student outcomes” because some of the five reviewers wrote the state had not adequately linked strategy to results.
The application “fails to provide a clear sense of the strategy to improve this outcome,” one reviewer said of the state’s overall 75 percent graduation rate for 2009.
Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who led the state’s Race effort, said they were studying applications of the winning states as well as other finalists to see what steps they might take to increase Colorado’s chances.
For the past week, state leaders also have been reading the reviewers’ comments and talking to education stakeholders across Colorado.
“We are committed to accelerating education reform in Colorado and our Round 2 application will be a coordinated effort to ensure our children’s success,” O’Brien said Tuesday.
Ritter, O’Brien and Dwight Jones, the state’s education commissioner, made the decision to go forward with round two after meeting Tuesday morning.
“We will scrutinize every comment from the first round and look for every opportunity to improve Colorado’s application while staying true to the reform plans we have already put in motion,” Jones said.
The state’s decision to re-apply was expected but not certain, particularly after Ritter told the New York Times for a Monday article that the scoring of the state’s application by five reviewers was inscrutable.
“It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Ritter told the newspaper.
That’s because, as the Denver Post first reported, Colorado had the second largest point gap in its reviewers’ scores of all 16 finalists. One reviewer awarded the state 453 out of 500 points while another reviewer gave it only 336.
State leaders also are likely to try to recruit more school districts and local unions to agree to participate in the Race plan. Only 41 percent of local unions signed on to the first application, as did 134 of the state’s 178 school districts.
The state’s largest teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, submitted a letter of support but some local union leaders had concerns about plans to link teacher pay and tenure to student achievement. Some districts, mostly small and rural, declined to sign because they worried about federal mandates.
In Delaware, by contrast, 100 percent of unions agreed to participate in that state’s Race effort and 93 percent of Tennessee’s unions did so. All districts in Delaware and Tennessee signed on to their state Race plans.
Ritter’s decision to re-apply was a relief for some. State Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former teacher and principal active in education issues, tweeted his approval:
“Gov/LtGov/Cmsr Jones continue to show the leadership that has transformed Ed in CO w plan to apply for Rd 2 of RTT!”
Click here to read Ed News’ prior R2T story, which includes a chart comparing Colorado’s application with those of the winning states and links to the state’s point scorecard and reviewer comments.
Click here to read a national roundup of other states’ decisions on round two of Race to the Top from Education Week.