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What Will New York State’s Race to the Top Application Look Like?

Recently, the New York State Department of Education  (NYSED) circulated a Public Communication and Policy Recommendations Summary for its Race to the Top (RttT) grant proposal to the nearly 700 school districts throughout New York State. In order to participate, each district is required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in support of the application. Key to all of the is that the RttT funds would be split 50-50 between NYSED and the districts. I started receiving copies of this last week from various colleagues as it made its way across school districts in New York State.

So, what does this all look like?

 Here is the proposal summary:
NYS Race to the Top Summary
So, since Dewey21C is an arts education blog after all, let’s look at what this is means for arts education.

First of all, let’s remember that this proposal, which is slated for the first of two rounds, may bring in up to $700 million for K-12 education in New York State. While that’s only a small fraction of the total NYSED budget, it’s just a wee bit more than chump change.

There are four key components to this application summary: Standards and Assessments; Data Systems to Support Instruction; Great Teachers and Leaders; Turning Around Struggling Schools.

This is a summary document, and as always, but even more in this case, the devil is in the details. That being said, on the surface, what might this present for the arts?

In the Standards and Assessment section, NYSED references 21st century competencies (technology, economics, and the arts) in regards to the redesign of the NYS Assessment Program. It’s a bit hard to know what this means in the summary, but according to sources, it could eventually include required high school exit exams in the arts. And, presumably, as the state standards and frameworks are revisited, those for the arts would be revised too.

In the Great Teachers and Leaders section, there is a pilot program that will allow, among others, cultural organizations and other non-profits, through an RFP process, to “recommend for certification both teachers and principals for placement in high needs schools through clinically-based graduate programs.”

And, then there’s the Turning Around Struggling Schools section. Here they are looking to create and support “innovative secondary school models,” including “secondary schools for the arts,” as well as “full service secondary schools supported by cross-agency partnerships and community-based organizations.”

Without digging deeper into the summary, that’s about it. When the full proposal is made public, there will probably be a bit more to report.

It’s a good question to ask whether or not NYSED could have done more for the arts? In all fairness, I think the answer is probably no. The RttT guidelines are pretty clear, and I am sorry to say that including the arts in a state’s proposal will not provide any competitive advantage.

Look at this summary. In it you will see lots about the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). The summary is studded with STEM components.

Why?

It’s simple, because the USDOE specified the RttT guidelines to focus on STEM. State departments of education have to do what it takes to win a grant in a competitive application process, and the arts just don’t add up to much in these guidelines.

The administration is doing a lot of talk about the importance of arts education. This was the first real, substantial moment to add some walk to the talk, and I am sorry to say that it’s a disappointment.

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