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In a Notice of Final Priorities (NFP), the United States Department of Education (USDE) presented a final set of 16 Supplemental Priorities for Discretionary Grant Programs in May 2011. The set embraces a total of 50 priority areas, one or more of which the USDE may use in its discretionary grant programs.

 

This post explores new statutory definitions in the NFP and some features of the 14 priority areas of the first four priorities for Advancing Key Cradle-to-Career Reforms. Earlier posts provided an overview of the 16 supplemental priorities. Later posts will explore features of the remaining 36 priority areas.

 

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Overview of Definitions:

In planning and designing projects, applicants must be responsive to the 21 new statutory definitions included in the NFP, as appropriate to each solicitation of proposals. The 21 phrases selected for definition cluster around such primary concerns as: Evaluation Design, Outcome Indicators, Targeted Project Participants/Beneficiaries, and External Stakeholder Engagement.

 

Among the NFP definitions related to Evaluation Design are:

  • Carefully matched comparison group design
  • Experimental study
  • Interrupted time series design
  • Moderate evidence
  • Quasi-experimental study
  • Regression discontinuity design study
  • Strong evidence
  • Well-designed and well-implemented

 

Among the NFP definitions related to Outcome Indicators are:

  • Graduation rate
  • Student achievement
  • Student growth

 

Among the NFP definitions related to Targeted Project Participants/Beneficiaries are:

  • High-need children and high-need students
  • High-poverty school
  • Military-connected student
  • Persistently lowest-achieving schools
  • Rural local educational agency
  • Programs of study

 

Among the NFP definitions related to External Stakeholder Engagement are:

  • Community engagement
  • Parent and family engagement
  • Privacy requirements

 

I. Advancing Key Cradle-to-Career Educational Reforms

The 14 priority areas within the first four supplemental priorities of this focus area will shape an applicant’s planning of program designs and the framing of project objectives. In any competition for a discretionary grant, the USDE may invite projects that focus on one or more of these areas.

 

Priority 1—Improving Early Learning Outcomes:

The 5 priority areas for Priority 1—Improving Early Learning Outcomes are:

  • Physical wellbeing and motor development
  • Social-emotional development
  • Language and literacy development
  • Cognition and general knowledge, including early numeracy and early scientific development
  • Approaches toward learning

 

In planning a proposal under Priority 1, applicants may need to adopt a broad view of early childhood development and to propose objectives for one or more of health, motor skills, social skills, early literacy, early numeracy, and/or science. Applicants should note that the priority emphasizes outcomes. The priority accommodates a wide range of types of eligible applicants.

 

Priority 2—Implementing Internationally Benchmarked, College- and Career-Ready Elementary and Secondary Academic Standards:

The 4 priority areas for Priority 2—Implementing Internationally Benchmarked, College- and Career-Ready Elementary and Secondary Academic Standards are:

  • Development or implementation of assessments (e.g., summative, formative, interim) aligned with those standards
  • Development or implementation of curriculum or instructional materials aligned with those standards
  • Development or implementation of professional development or preparation programs aligned with those standards
  • Strategies that translate the standards into classroom practice

 

In planning a proposal under Priority 2, an applicant may need to design projects that focus on all or part of the grades K-12 spectrum, and ones that focus on assessment, curriculum development, professional development, and/or classroom instruction. Applicants must use international benchmarks and must design projects that contribute to college- and career-readiness. Applicants should note that the priority emphasizes academic standards. The priority accommodates a wide range of types of eligible applicants.

 

Priority 3—Improving the Effectiveness and Distribution of Effective Teachers or Principals:

The 2 priority areas for Priority 3—Improving the Effectiveness and Distribution of Effective Teachers or Principals are:

  • Increasing the number or percentage of teachers or principals who are effective or reducing the number or percentage of teachers or principals who are ineffective, particularly in high-poverty schools including through such activities as (i) improving the preparation, recruitment, development, and evaluation of teachers and principals; (ii) implementing performance-based certification and retention systems; and (iii) reforming compensation and advancement systems
  • Increasing the retention, particularly in high-poverty schools, and equitable distribution of teachers or principals who are effective

 

In planning a proposal under Priority 3, an applicant may focus on its pipeline of teachers and principals as well as on its existing workforce. Applicants must be willing to reassign their effective educators in order to improve their distribution among their schools. The priority accommodates a wide range of types of eligible applicants, but it may favor larger or more urban ones where high-poverty schools, as well as teachers and principals of varied effectiveness, are more numerous.

 

Priority 3 also requires that teacher and principal effectiveness should be measured using either:

  • Teacher or principal evaluation data, in States or local educational agencies that have in place a high-quality teacher or principal evaluation system that (i) takes into account student growth in significant part and (ii) uses multiple measures, that, in the case of teachers, may include observations for determining teacher effectiveness, or
  • Data that include, in significant part, student achievement or student growth data and may include multiple measures in States or local educational agencies that do not have high-quality teacher or principal evaluation systems

 

In planning a proposal under Priority 3, an applicant must be willing to use certain specific kinds of data to measure teacher and principal effectiveness and it must also be willing to use several measures of effectiveness, rather than only one. Two of these measures are statutorily defined.

 

Priority 4—Turning Around Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools:

The 3 priority areas for Priority 4—Turning Around Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools are:

  • Improving student achievement in persistently lowest-achieving schools
  • Increasing graduation rates and college enrollment rates for students in persistently lowest-achieving schools
  • Providing services to students enrolled in persistently lowest-achieving schools

 

In planning a proposal under Priority 4, applicants may target only certain schools that must satisfy a statutory definition. Not only must such schools be performing at low levels; their low-level performance must also continue to occur year after year. Applicants must also plan to focus their efforts on improving three specific outcomes; two of them are statutorily defined. With its emphases on schools and on these outcomes, Priority 4 appears to favor local educational agencies as eligible applicants.

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