Gov. Bill Ritter Friday expressed confidence that Colorado can win federal Race to the Top funds and said he wasn’t discouraged by the possibility that the state might end up with a smaller grant that originally expected.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien and Gov. Bill Ritter presided over the final meeting of Race to the Top advisory committees at the Capitol on Nov. 13, 2009.
Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien and Gov. Bill Ritter presided over the final meeting of Race to the Top advisory committees at the Capitol on Nov. 13, 2009.

Ritter, Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien and education Commissioner Dwight Jones presided over a final meeting of participants in the four subcommittees O’Brien convened last August to help state officials prepare Colorado’s bid for a share of $4.3 billion in R2T money.

“I’m very hopeful … I think we are very well positioned” for R2T, Ritter told the meeting in the Capitol’s ornate Old Supreme Court Chambers. Jones said, “We continue to be optimistic, cautiously optimistic.”

Asked after the meeting about new federal guidelines that put Colorado in a group of states that might receive grants of only $60 to $175 million, Ritter said, “Yes, that absolutely can help” if that’s how much the state ends up receiving. He said he hopes R2T money could be used to pay for implementation of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids program, a multi-year effort that currently has very little state money committed to it.

(Earlier in the meeting, Jones had said, “I’m not sure we were pleased with the financial boundaries they set.” But, he added that the state wouldn’t restrict its application to the $60-$175 million range. For money information on the federal government’s final R2T guidance, including possible grant amounts, see this EdNews story.)

Ritter also said he didn’t think his proposed $374 million cut in K-12 spending for 2010-11 would hurt Colorado’s R2T bid because the recession has forced virtually every state to cut school spending. (See this EdNews story for details on Ritter’s latest budget proposal.)

The recommendations from the four committees, plus two smaller groups that focused on early childhood education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) issues, include a range of ideas from the concrete to the aspirational (or even a little squishy), none with price tags attached.

They will be rolled up with proposals received from other groups, interests and education experts and distilled into the R2T application by officials in the governor’s office, the lieutenant governor’s office and the state Department of Education, aided by consultants from the School of Public Affairs at CU-Denver, Augenblick, Palaich and Associates and the Third Mile Group. The application also is expected to heavily stress a variety of education reforms the state has started in the last two years.

Jones told the meeting, “Please know that the final application may include some, all or none of the recommendations.” O’Brien said, “The ideas … are going to be part of what’s considered.”

The state’s application must be submitted to Washington by Jan. 19.

The work of the advisory panels was seen in some quarters as kind of window dressing, but O’Brien Friday praised its value. “No other state has this kind of outreach and public participation.” About 650 people signed up to participate in the process, she said.

Here are the highlights of some recommendations by the four committees and two other groups:

Low-Performing Schools

• Create a “turnaround corps” of skilled educators that would move from school to school.
• Establish a state database of best practices for turning around such schools.
• Expand instructional time in those schools.

Great Teachers and Leaders

• Use standards and data to drive continuous improvement of schools and educators.
• Expect and reward both individual educators and teams for student achievement.

Longitudinal Data Systems

• Several suggestions were made for improving state and local data systems and changing educator and administrator attitudes about their use.

Standards and Assessment

• Ensure that new standards and tests are linked to curriculum.
• Make wider use of formative assessments.
• Ensure student mastery of skills and standards.
• Make tests relevant to student mastery of skills.

Early Childhood Education

• Offer full-day preschool and kindergarten to at-risk children.
• Upgrade quality of parent education programs.
• Create a statewide ECE coaching network.
• Establish a student identifier for ECE children.
• Professional development for all P-3 teachers.

STEM

• The group called for better coordination of STEM program, improved partnerships with research institutions and industry and better promotion of STEM education opportunities.

(Go here for an expanded summary of the recommendations, including examples of how the suggested concepts might be implemented. PDF format)

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