Sneak Preview: ED Office Urged To Implement Technical Assistance Policies

May 29, 2015 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

xgran_bookshot(The following was excerpted from a recent article in the Federal Grants Management Handbook.) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently urged the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) new Office of State Support to fully implement technical assistance policies and procedures to help ED grant recipients sustain educational reforms made under the Race to the Top program.

ED created the Race to the Top program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, awarding $4 billion in competitive grant funds to 19 states to reform four core educational areas — developing standards to prepare students for college; implementing data systems to measure student academic growth; recruiting and retaining effective teachers and principals; and turning around the lowest-achieving schools. One state official told GAO that Race to the Top funds enabled the state to increase courses in science, technology, engineering and math for students and teachers and provide professional development opportunities for pre-kindergarten teachers. States were required to subaward at least 50 percent of the funds to school districts in their state.

However, GAO found that about one-third of states that received Race to the Top funding have struggled to maintain support for program reforms from state legislatures, teacher organizations and district leaders. For example, one state official told GAO that the state teachers’ union sought to reverse elements of their evaluation system that links teacher performance to student achievement, and the state legislature was seeking to reverse the adoption of the Common Core state standards, both of which were key elements of the state’s Race to the Top application.

Local school districts have faced various challenges as well. Many school districts now participating in Race to the Top reforms told GAO that decreases in state funding to their districts and increased enrollments have affected their financial capacity to fund reforms at a local level. Rural districts are especially struggling to sustain reforms compared to urban districts due to limited staff and financial resources, and they do not have the resources to implement large-scale efforts to hire skilled employees. “A better understanding of the capacity challenges rural districts face could help ED better target its technical assistance to districts that need it the most,” GAO said.

Race to the Top recipients told GAO that individualized technical assistance from ED was the most helpful resource when building capacity to sustain reform plans. Many states said that ongoing professional development throughout the grant period, as opposed to during the early stages of the grant, would help them better implement their Race to the Top program reforms.

(The full version of this story has now been made available to all for a limited time on Thompson’s Grants Compliance Expert site).

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