No Luck in Latest RTTT Competition, But Important Blueprints for Next Generation Learning Laid
After winning the last two federal competitions ($119M (2009) for K-12 and $49M (2011) for early learning), our Delaware districts were unfortunately not selected as finalists in the latest competition.
Late Monday, The U.S. Department of Education announced the selection of 61 finalists for the Race to the Top District competition among 371 applications and more than 1,000 districts. From this very large pool, the two applications from Delaware were not selected. While the applications from the BRINC Consortium (comprised of Brandywine, Colonial, Indian River, and the New Castle County VoTech Districts) and the Seaford School District were not among the finalists, both teams put a tremendous amount of well-spent time and energy into rethinking what it will truly take to “personalize” learning for all their students.
“Personalization” for many means better incorporating technology so that students can work at their own pace. However, more broadly, personalization means simply better understanding where each child is and designing an educational strategy that works for them; something strong educators have been doing for years. The challenge for BRINC and Seaford was to discern how our newly strengthened data infrastructure could be married with all the new tools at their disposal —online courses, new approaches to curriculum, new partnerships with colleges and businesses — to make sure every child was being challenged and supported.
Even though these groups will not be in the running for federal funding, the commitment to implementing their plans remain. Both plans were strong:
- In Seaford, building on the promising results of the Delaware New Tech Academy at the high school level, the district proposed to extend this hands-on, deeper learning model to the middle and elementary school to create a K-12 continuum, changing the way all students in their district learn. To support this transformation, the plan devotes significant resources to supporting teachers and developing an extensive data system to track student performance at all levels.
- In the BRINC Consortium, the group focused on 6-12th grade students. The Consortium’s plan proposed an extensive expansion of learning opportunities for students, including online coursework, dual enrollment at college, and increased use of “blended learning” strategies in the classroom, i.e. greater integration of technology. To support this expansion, the plan calls for the implementation of “experimental” model classrooms to allow teachers to test and share innovative instructional strategies.
These plans will serve as blueprints for these districts and can offer lessons for all districts over time.
As was the case with applications coming from Delaware in the previous Race to the Top competitions, a wide range of partners—school boards, community organizations, higher education institutions, DSEA, PTA, businesses, elected officials, and foundations—came together to build a plan of action. While we, in Delaware, might take such collaborative efforts for granted, we should acknowledge the leadership required to make this happen and appreciate it because, nationally, many potential applicants were simply unable to get off the ground because they couldn’t agree on a plan.
Finally, in the busy, day-to-day, work of running schools, it’s hard to make the time to pick one’s head up and look around the corner. All of the district leaders who submitted these applications should be lauded for doing just that. On top of their demanding day jobs, they gave up several weekends and evenings working through the design of what the next generation of learning can and will be in Delaware. I have no doubt that these educators will figure out how to follow through on their plans. And when they do, we should all be watching closely, doing what we can to help, and taking notes, because they will be breaking new ground that will benefit all of us.