By Denise Dick
The federal educational grant program Race to the Top is about bolstering achievement for all students, not just those in low- performing districts.
“Our overarching goal is to prepare students for college and career or workplace readiness,” said Dante Zambrini, Canfield superintendent.
Canfield, which has been rated excellent for the last 11 years on state report cards, was awarded $100,000 through the program — $25,000 in each of the next four years.
Ohio will receive $400 million in education grants over the next four years as part of the federal Race to the Top initiative.
None of the 10 Mahoning Valley school districts that received the grant funds are low-performing districts, said Barbara Williams, director of curriculum at the Mahoning County Educational Service Center.
Twelve area charter schools also signed up to participate in the state’s program application and will receive funds.
Other elements of the program are standards and assessments, data systems to support instruction and great teachers and leaders.
The plan aims, by 2014, to increase high school graduation rates by 0.5 percent annually; reduce graduation rate gaps by 50 percent between under-represented and majority students; reduce the performance gaps by 50 percent on national and statewide assessments; reduce the gap between Ohio and the best- performing states by 50 percent on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and mathematics; and double the projected increase in college enrollment of students age 19 and younger.
Williams said the state also received grant funding to enact changes.
The districts that received the funds submitted information to the state last week, mapping out their plan for meeting the goals, she said.
Donald Mook, superintendent for Columbiana Exempted Village Schools, said the grant money allows those districts to fund professional development and other methods to meet the changing requirements. Those districts that don’t receive the money still will have to meet requirements, he said.
“We have the opportunity in Race to the Top to pretty much change the way we do business,” Mook said.
Both he and Zambrini said the grant allows participating districts more options.
“Rather than have someone do unto you, it’s better to be part of the process to create the system,” Zambrini said.
Standards and assessments includes development of formative assessments that measure students’ grasp of concepts as classes are being taught.
Rather than waiting until a quiz or a test to learn if students understand, formative assessments allows for that determination to be ongoing.
“Years ago, teachers were trained to do a lesson plan on Sunday night and create a quiz or test for Friday,” Zambrini said.
Now, it’s the opposite: Teachers develop their lessons around the tests of what students need to know.
“Formative assessment is daily, hourly — it’s the short assessment to find out: Are the students getting it?” he said.
The Great Teachers and Leaders component of Race to the Top calls for development of teacher and principal evaluations, beginning a principal mentorship program and implementing rigorous standards and assessments for educator preparation programs.
Williams said that each participating school district must have a team established to develop the plans and half of that team must be comprised of teachers.
If a district doesn’t meet any of the elements required in the grant, it won’t receive the funding.
Mook said the process gives districts opportunities to collaborate with their respective unions.
“It’s a chance for them to get involved with the decision making of it,” he said. “... Who better to be involved in how we evaluate each other than the staff themselves?”
Zambrini said the changes aim to improve student performance and achievement for all schools and all students.
“We need to teach students to teach themselves to learn,” he said. “It’s about college readiness and career readiness.”
Students have to learn applications, research, problem solving and critical thinking, Zambrini said.
That way, if as an adult they lose a job or their career changes, they’ll be able to teach themselves and to adapt.
“It’s more about learning than memorizing,” Zambrini said. “Students are preparing themselves.”