Fed Education Program Questions Remain

NEWARK – Despite doubts over the costs of a federal program to improve education, the Worcester County Board of Education signed off on a grant application requesting funds from the new initiative.

The federal Race To The Top (RTTT) program will likely require major changes to education.

The RTTT website lists two major planks of the program: “Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy; [and] building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.”

“We can anticipate that the implementation of RTTT in Maryland will require significant change to the state curriculum and assessments, data collection, staff allocation, accountability, and extensive monitoring and compliance,” a school board staff memo reads.

A redesign of the curriculum will require school systems to buy new textbooks and other materials and train teachers.

If Worcester County does not sign off on the grant application, and therefore does not request any money, future grant applications might not be looked upon favorably, said Board of Education member Donny Shockley.

Other grants would be predicated on the RTTT funding, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes confirmed.

The school board and staff agree that no matter how much funding Worcester County education gets, the cost of a new curriculum, teacher training, and testing will exceed the RTTT grant monies awarded.

The RTTT funding would be restricted.

“We’re not getting $1 million to spend however we want to spend it,” said Andes.

The RTTT grant process will give preference to the worst school systems in the nation. Worcester County schools are considered some of the best in the country.

Board of Education President Bob Hulburd said he was disturbed that successful programs are not being rewarded under the RTTT funding with the focus on awarding money to the worst five percent of the nation’s school systems.

“It’s kind of like you’re being penalized for doing a great job,” said Hulburd.

The Worcester County Teacher’s Association (WCTA) has not decided whether or not to sign off on the application, WCTA President Terry Springle said, because no one seems to be sure if the teachers must sign it.

The school board and the WCTA would like to modify the grant rules, such as allowing the top five percent of schools to use the funding with no strings attached, or to allow those top schools to opt out of the RTTT money while remaining eligible for later grants.

Springle said he feels like the initiative is being forced on Worcester County.

“We have so little time to make an intelligent decision on what the consequences will be,” said Springle.

“This train is leaving the station. We just have to get it to slow down,” Board of Education member Bob Rothermel said.

The application is due March 1. The school board would not have another meeting until after that date, forcing a decision this week.

The RTTT plan is not designed for rural areas, said Rothermel, instead focusing on urban educational issues.

“I have more concerns about taking control away from the local level,” said Hulburd.

“We may as well take the money if we’re going to have to do it anyway,” said Springle.

“They got us any way we turn,” said school board member Sara Thompson.