Accelify Blog

State Schools Lose Race to the Top (NH)

July 28, 2010

If New Hampshire is in a race to improve its schools, it hasn’t even cleared the starting blocks.

The U.S. Department of Education yesterday released a list of 19 state finalists in the Race to the Top, President Obama’s signature effort to improve schools in the country. And the Granite State did not make the cut, losing out on as much as $75 million to improve low-performing schools, many of them in the state’s largest city, Manchester.

It is the second time the state lost out on Race to the Top. In March, New Hampshire failed to make the finals in the phase-one competition, which awarded $600 million to Tennessee and Delaware.

A state education official yesterday expressed disappointment at the phase-two results and said education reform efforts are continuing.

But the mayor of Manchester hin ted that politics could have played a role in the decision. And a teachers’ union official said New Hampshire’s emphasis on local control doomed any effort to get Race to the Top money.

"They (Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan) want top-down control. In New Hampshire, that’s not how we do that. That application was dead on arrival," said Scott McGilvray, president of the 1,200-member Manchester Education Association.

He said New Hampshire needs to continue to apply for Race to the Top money, just so the state won’t get frozen out of other education programs, such as Title 1 funding or the School Improvement Grant program, which is not competitive.

Nationally, New Hampshire and 34 other states had applied for the phase-two competition, which will award as much as $3.4 billion for states to revamp their education systems.

Yesterday, Duncan announced the 19 finalists: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Manchester would have stood to benefit from a Race to the Top designation. The Queen City had five elementary schools on a statewide list of 12 "persistently low-achieving schools" in the phase-one application.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he would have liked to see New Hampshire make the cut, but he noted that the finalists are heavy with electoral votes.

Gatsas also took issue with a key focus of Race to the Top — that principals or teachers would have to be fired in poorly performing schools.

&#x0 A;He said Manchester has the second-highest concentration of refugees and immigrants in New England, and several of its schools experience tremendous turnover. Beech Street sees 45 percent of its students turn over every year, he said.

He questioned what the best principal in the country would do to address such a problem.

"It (Race to the Top) should be about allowing us to do more things than replacing teachers," Gatsas said.

Only 83 of New Hampshire’s 163 school districts participated in the phase-two Race to the Top effort. And of those 83 districts, only 45 of the presidents of local teachers’ union signed on.

New Hampshire’s application promised to provide intensive services to the six school districts whose schools were among those scoring lowest.

"We are disappointed, no question," said Paul Leather, New Hampshire’s deputy education commissioner. "We were able to develop a state plan for education reform. We are moving forward. We may not be able to do it as quickly."

The federal government has graded the phase-one applications.

New Hampshire scored only 271 of 500 possible points, and three of five judges said the state did not have a comprehensive approach to education reform, which was an absolute priority for Race to the Top money.