Race to the Top, a new federal competitive grant program that provides funds to states to engage in reform activities, has been praised for its early impact on state education legislation. In fact, the Obama Administration has repeatedly discussed the program’s success due to the large number of states that have made legislative changes to improve their likelihood of winning a piece of the $4.35 billion pot. Though only two states won awards in the first round of the competition, 35 states and the District of Columbia just submitted their Phase 2 applications for 10-15 remaining awards. There has been little discussion about what these state legislative changes really mean for education reform. A recent report from Learning Point Associates titled “State Legislation: Emerging Trends Reflected in the State Phase 1 Race to the Top Application” delves into the changes states have made in the last three years to their teacher legislation, whether directly tied to the Race to the Top competition or not.
To compile the report, Learning Point Associates reviewed all 41 of the Race to the Top (RttT) Phase 1 applications, noting any mention of state legislation passed in 2007 or later that related to teacher quality, effectiveness, or distribution. This information provides a good picture of recent state legislative activity either in the two years before RttT or during the program’s implementation. In total, 29 of the 41 states that applied in Phase 1 mentioned that they had recently passed or planned to pass state legislation pertaining to teachers. Of these, 18 passed legislation in 2009 or 2010, likely as a direct consequence of the RttT eligibility requirements. An additional 10 states mentioned legislation that would be passed later in 2010.
Of the 29 states that mentioned legislation pertaining to teachers in their RttT applications, 15 discussed legislation surrounding teacher evaluations, including 11 states that had previously passed such legislation in 2007 or later. Nine of those states passed legislation that details how teacher effectiveness should be measured using evaluations. This includes using student growth data and teacher observations. Four states also passed legislation that prescribed how evaluation data must be used for either certification or compensation or tenure purposes.
Thirteen states also mentioned state legislative changes pertaining to alternative teacher certification rules and programs, 12 of which have actually passed such legislation. These legislative changes either expanded the list of eligible alternative certification providers in the state (6 states); created teacher residency programs (2 states); removed barriers for second-career or other non-traditional teachers that wish to enter an alternative certification program (5 states); pr required alternative certification programs to increase their admissions criteria (1 state).
Seven states mentioned legislative changes affecting teacher compensation – all seven of which have already been passed. Another seven discussed legislation addressing teacher distribution and other seven describe legislation that changes teacher tenure laws. In both of these cases, only 5 states have actually passed this legislation. The report also discusses states that made or have proposed legislative changes pertaining to professional development, traditional certification, and teacher mentoring and induction.
This Learning Point Associates report makes clear that many states have been actively reforming their teacher quality, effectiveness, and distribution legislation over the past three years. To a certain extent, this activity can be attributed to Race to the Top – at least 18 states have made such changes since the program was first announced. But in most states, this legislation is still in the planning phases and little is known about whether the changes were significant enough to have a positive effect on the teaching force. This information, which will truly determine whether RttT was a success, probably won’t be available until the funds have run out.