Last month the U.S. Department of Education announced the 16 Race to The Top District competition winners. The nearly $400 million awarded for the Race to the Top District competition (RTT-D) sounds like it is a lot of money. It is, in fact, a lot of money, and we are excited about the potential that this funding infusion will have on student achievement in those districts. That being said, we know that among 370+ applicants, there were more than just 16 great plans for building personalized learning environments.
If your district was not among the winners, don’t discard your plans altogether. You can still implement your vision for personalized learning within your existing budget, even if on a smaller scale.
While it will be a challenge without RTT-D funding, implementing personalized learning may not be more costly than a traditional instructional model, over the long run. There are already some districts that have leveraged existing funding sources to implement blended learning and other personalized learning programs—for a good example, see this article about Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina.
We have compiled a list of ideas below and with more details in a toolkit on our RTT-D Resources page about how you can leverage existing funds to proceed with some or all of your personalized learning plans. You can look into gaining efficiency from your technology spending as well as ways to re-invest existing state or federal funds.
- Examine software license fees and related usage
Many central offices sign district-wide licenses for software that is then not used consistently across all schools. Your district can review software usage and discontinue or reduce investments in products that all schools are not using and reallocate funds to support blended learning implementations.
- Consolidate idle computers to support personalized learning
Schools often spread computers across many classrooms and some computers simply sit idle for significant periods of the day. Your district can assess where computers are currently distributed and consolidate them into the schools or grades where personalized learning plans are most likely to take shape. Perhaps your district won’t even need to invest in new computers.
- Re-evaluate level of reliance on textbooks
Licenses for digital content can be difficult to afford in addition to traditional textbooks, even with long replacement cycles. While it may not yet be advisable in many districts, there are blended learning schools that have decided to completely forego textbooks and reinvested those funds in a combination of digital content and teacher-created resources aligned to their scope and sequence.
- Reallocate Title I, Part A funding
Title I funds can support a multitude of programs and activities that may or may not have a significant impact on student achievement. Title I funds can be used for computers, instructional software licenses, and professional development intended to improve a school’s instructional model. These funds can become even more flexible when districts implement school-wide programs in schools where at least 40% of students are low income.
- Reallocate Title I, Part A, Tutoring and Choice set-asides
NCLB required that schools in need of improvement for more than one year set aside funds for supplemental educational services (a.k.a. tutoring) and public school choice. If your district is in one of the 34 states (plus DC) whose request for ESEA Flexibility has been approved, you might be able to reallocate these funds to support blended learning implementations.
- Invest Title II, Part A funding for professional development
Many policy experts – and multiple ESEA reauthorization proposals – have proposed significant changes to improve the effectiveness of the Title II program. These funds, a significant portion of which are already used for professional development, could be invested to support professional development for teachers and principals implementing blended learning.
- Leverage School Improvement Grant funding
The SIG program provides significant funding to turn around the lowest performing schools in a state. If your district is among the few with new SIG funds, blended learning can be an effective strategy for your grant. It could also be a sustainable transition plan for schools completing their three-year grants.
We wish all the RTT-D winners good luck as they start working to make their vision for personalized learning environments a reality. For all the applicants, our updated RTT-D Resources page contains a new toolkit – Blended Learning on a Budget – as well as an Implementation Planning Toolkit, and slides from webinars on Selecting the Right Content and Creating Your Game Plan for Professional Development.
Big congratulations are in order for the Race to the Top District Competition’s 16 winners, who were announced yesterday. The winners spanned the great diversity of school districts nationwide – from the country’s fourth biggest district in South Florida (Miami-Dade County Public Schools) to a consortium of 24 largely rural districts in Kentucky (Green River Regional Education Cooperative) and from a charter management organization based in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley (IDEA Public Schools) to a consortium of districts bordering Washington’s Puget Sound (Puget Sound Educational Service District).
While there is still a lot to learn about the distinct approach each of these districts will take to implementing personalized learning environments, we are encouraged by the reviewers’ comments, which suggest that a majority of the winners have outlined a blended learning component in their plans.
A well-designed blended program benefits both the student and the teacher. Students have the opportunity to learn at their own pace using adaptive, digital content. Teachers have the ability to use data from digital curriculum and assessments to efficiently evaluate students’ performance, differentiate small group instruction. and focus on higher-order skills. We’re already seeing blended learning in action in many schools and we know it offers a sustainable strategy to delivering personalized learning over time.
While we know there were many high quality applications from among the 371 districts, congratulations again to the sixteen winners:
- Carson City School District in Nevada
- Charleston County School District in South Carolina
- Galt Joint Union School District in California
- Green River Regional Educational Cooperative in Kentucky
- Guilford County Schools in North Carolina
- Harmony Science Academy (Harmony Public Schools) in Texas
- IDEA Public Schools in Texas
- Iredell-Statesville Schools in North Carolina
- KIPP DC in Washington, DC
- Lindsay Unified School District in California
- Metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indiana
- Middletown City School District in New York
- New Haven Unified School District in California
- Puget Sound Educational Service District in Washington
- School Board of Miami-Dade County in Florida
- St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado
For those of you from the more than 371 applicants representing more than 1,100 districts across the country who spent many October nights frantically brainstorming, outlining, writing, editing, gathering support from stakeholders, crunching budget scenarios, and finally tracking down a CD-ROM (yes, they still make those) to send in your RTT-D application – congratulations on getting all of that done in such a short window of time.
While now is the time to relax (a little), and return to your regular jobs, it is also an important time to begin thinking about what comes next. What do you do after you hear from the Department that the hard work paid off and that the check is in the mail? Here’s what you should be thinking about:
The Department of Ed requires that districts submit a scope of work and school level implementation plans within 100 days of receiving an RTT-D award. This means districts will need to quickly go a level deeper on aspects of their application, including:
- Specific goals
- Activities and deliverables
- Key personnel
- Annual targets for key performance measures
- School level implementation plans
We’re getting excited about this next step – RTT-D implementation. In just ten months, thousands of students from many of the 371 applicants will have the opportunity to engage in personalized learning environments. It has been our pleasure to support a number of districts and consortia with their RTT-D applications and we look forward to helping more design and implement effective, sustainable blended learning environments.
We’ve worked with more than 50 schools all over the country to design and implement blended learning models, and have put together a new toolkit to assist districts in thinking about implementation. In it we outline some of the key questions and critical decisions district and school leaders should consider to ensure readiness by Fall 2013.
If you don’t end up winning, but want to pursue some of the goals outlined in your grant, we think you’ll find these ideas and tools useful.
We are hosting two upcoming webinars and we hope you will join us to learn more.
November 27, 2012 9 am PST/12 pm EST
Education Elements Webinar: Selecting the Right Digital Content for Your District
Click here to register
December 11, 2012 9 am PST/ 12 pm EST
Education Elements Webinar: Creating Your Game Plan for Professional Development
Click here to register
The Race to the Top District Competition’s (RTT-D) absolute priority focused on personalized learning environments is exciting for us here at Education Elements. We’ve worked with schools and districts all over the country to help them personalize learning as they create Blended Classrooms.
Rather than summarizing the competition, over the next few weeks we’ll be using this space to highlight how the work we’ve done on instructional model design, digital content curation, and project implementation can help districts as they develop their RTT-D applications.
Each phase of RTT has awarded points to applicants that have already demonstrated success and that have aggressive reform plans. But the amendments many RTT winning States have filed make it clear that implementing those plans is a major challenge.
That could be why RTT-D has an emphasis on evidence that districts will be able to successfully implement their plans.
This focus on implementation becomes apparent throughout the selection criteria.
Criteria (A)(2) Applicant’s Approach to Implementation shows that:
- The Department expects districts to describe their process to select participating schools and how they will support high-quality implementations.
Our experience with schools suggests:
- Schools are often best served by thoughtfully phasing the introduction of new processes and tools because blended learning requires significant shifts in practices (e.g. managing rotations in the classroom). This phasing allows teachers – and students – to build confidence as they move from “beginning” to “advanced” practices.
- As you write your application, keep your end vision in mind and develop a roadmap for how to get there. Don’t be afraid to dream big but start small. Pick elements of your plan that can be rapidly deployed to serve the required number of students (see FAQ C-1e for more on that), and scale the more complicated elements throughout the grant period. The first schools transforming their instructional models will be the hardest to do. Consider how many schools you will select, and what elements of the model you will roll out in them in year one, how you will learn from them, and how to grow in future years.
Criteria (C)(1) and (C)(2) Preparing Students for College and Careers shows that:
- The Department expects applicants to provide training, support, and resources for students and educators to support implementation of personalized learning.
Our experience with schools suggests:
- It is important to make sure the training for teachers is phased to prioritize what they need on Day 1 (e.g. logging in, training students, and assigning content to students) with follow ups to analyze actual data and introduce additional features and expectations.
- Including a comprehensive plan that lays out your professional development goals and objectives will strengthen your application. You should also be sure to think through the cost of providing PD and include that in your budget.
Criteria (E)(1) Continuous Improvement Process shows that:
- The Department expects districts to articulate a process to provide regular feedback on progress toward project goals.
Our experience with schools suggests:
- It is important for schools to proactively build processes such as common planning time for teachers to share successes and challenges, having a blended learning lead to collect technical questions and problems, and scheduling recurring “data days” to adjust content, intervention, or other strategies.
- Developing and spelling out a plan for how you will ensure learning and improvement over the grant period will be key in your application. Think about what stakeholders you will need to engage, and any costs that might be associated with their time in this effort. Show that you have thought through not only how you will collect data, but also how you will use it to improve your programs and practices.
Being thoughtful about implementation now will not only make your application stronger, but also make your transformation more successful.
If you are interested in learning more, we are hosting a webinar on Thursday September 13 at 9 am PST/12 pm EST on creating credible implementation plans. Register here.