President Obama has packed a number of his campaign promises related to education into his "Race to the Top" program, which seeks to encourage innovative approaches to teaching and learning by having states compete for $4.35 billion worth of grants from the Department of Education. The program was funded through the Obama-backed economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February.
In a July 24, 2009 op-ed piece for the Washington Post -- under the headline "Education Reform's Moon Shot" -- Education Secretary Arne Duncan said states seeking grants under "Race to the Top" guidelines will be pressed to implement four core reforms.
Creating better ways to reward good teachers was one of them.
To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals -- and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren't up to the job," Duncan wrote.
In a speech in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 4, Obama formally announced the criteria for states to win the grants.
One of those is to encourage the reward of effective teachers and provide incentives to keep those teachers in struggling schools that so desperately need them.
"We know that from the moment our kids enter a school, the most important factor in their success -- other than their parents -- is the person standing in front of the classroom, the teacher," Obama said. "The second measure is whether a state is committed to putting effective teachers in its classrooms and effective principals at the helm of its schools.
"Now, it's time to start taking this commitment seriously. We've got to do a better job recruiting and preparing new teachers. We've got to do a better job of rewarding outstanding teachers. And I've got to be honest, we've got to do a better job of moving bad teachers out of the classroom, once they've been given an opportunity to do it right.
"And that means creating alternate pathways to teaching for talented young people by expanding programs like the one used in Boston, where aspiring teachers work side-by-side with effective mentors in a year-long residency," Obama said. "It means bringing quality teachers in -- it means bringing quality teachers to the neighborhoods that need them the most, because right now a lot of what happens is, is that some of the best teachers, as they get seniority, they move on to the places -- the school districts that pay better and, frankly, are easier to teach. And we've got to give them some incentives to stay so that the kids who need the most help are getting some of the best teachers."
That rhetoric was backed up in the Notice of Priorities for the "Race to the Top" grants, which talks about "ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals."
According to the notice inviting applications, rewarded will be "the extent to which the State has a high-quality plan and ambitious yet achievable annual targets to increase the number and percentage of highly effective teachers and principals in high-poverty schools, and to increase the number and percentage of effective teachers teaching hard-to-staff subjects including mathematics, science, special education, English language proficiency, and other hard-to-staff subjects identified by the State or LEA (local educational agencies). Plans may include, but are not limited to, the implementation of incentives and strategies in areas such as recruitment, compensation, career development, and human resources practices and processes."
Competition for the grants will be conducted in two rounds -- the first starting this month and the second in June of next year -- with winners announced in April and September 2010.
In his July op-ed piece, Duncan said the $4.35 billion available in "Race to the Top" program "easily outstrips the combined sum of discretionary funds for reform that all of my predecessors as education secretary had" and marks "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for the federal government to encourage far-reaching improvements.
We think it is certainly enough to move this Obama promise to In the Works.