True, things look bleak. Our Race To The Top application was gathering dust in the DOE until Monday when Lucille Davy appeared before the Senate Education Committee and said she’d hire a consultant to get us back on track for the Jan. 19th deadline. Good plan. Here’s another: look at the 21-page document (hat tip to Flypaper) that the Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak just sent to school district superintendents and borrow liberally.
Pennsylvania shares many of N.J.’s educational woes: chronically failing schools, too many districts (500 of them), and what Zahorchak calls “significant barriers, entrenched practices, and a status quo mindset to be overcome.” Yet in spite of these obstacles, the PA DOE has produced a cohesive strategic plan for education reform rooted in closing bad schools, tying teacher compensation to performance, implementing data systems that measure student success and inform instruction, offering signing bonuses to experienced and effective teachers, and expanding charter schools. The document asks that each school district interested in sharing in the potential $200-400 million available through Race To The Top submit a letter of intent by Dec. 18th signed by the superintendent, school board president, and local union leader. Zahorchak writes,
Pennsylvania’s application will strongly assert that we can and will execute our plans, taking full advantage of your proven ability to get things done and the state infrastructure to support launching and supporting the highest-impact reforms.
We can do this too. It’s not too late for the N.J. DOE to produce a similarly proactive strategic plan, garner the support of stakeholders, and give our schools a shot in the competition for federal funds. Sure, we’ve got a late start, but the stakes are high. We can take the lead from our neighboring state and give our kids a chance at expansive resources and increased academic opportunity. What do we have to lose?