After falling short last year, city schools are again asking for millions in federal money in the latest Race to the Top competition for school systems promising to personalize education.
School administrators said the four-year, $25 million grant that Hartford is seeking would provide a "personal electronic device"-- or tablet computer -- to every high school student and generally bolster the district's efforts to engage students and prepare them for college and careers.
Hartford's proposal targets grades 6 to 12 and requests $9.9 million to support personalized instruction, $8.8 million for technology and $6.3 million for student development plans that would have an impact on 10,921 students and 2,728 educators in 41 city schools, administrators said.
The school system's application is based heavily on its 2012 Race to the Top finalist bid and includes plans for parent engagement, more professional development for teachers and a districtwide internship program for students in partnership with the city's business community.
The city school board voted this week to authorize Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and board Chairman Matthew Poland to sign the application, which is due Oct. 3. Nearly $120 million in grants are expected to be awarded to 5 to 10 school systems in December.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, several other Connecticut school districts have submitted an intent to apply, including Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven, Norwalk, Vernon and the Connecticut Technical High School System.
In 2012, Hartford and Bridgeport each sought $30 million Race to the Top grants but did not score high enough after being named among 61 finalists. Sixteen winners from that competition, ranging from the KIPP DC charter school network to Washington state's Puget Sound Educational Service District, will share $383 million over four years.
Hartford school officials said they updated their application in areas where judges gave weak scores and lowered the proposed budget to reflect structural improvements in the district.
Hartford "has already made significant strides towards increasing personalized instruction," states a draft version of the application. "The district's transformation 7 years ago into a portfolio system has been a dramatic change that now offers students and families a number of themed academies, district magnets and charter school partnerships that are open to all on the basis of interest ..."
Board Secretary Robert Cotto Jr., who voted against authorizing the grant submission, argued Tuesday that the $4 billion Obama administration program has been a "flop." He cited a new report from the Economic Policy Institute that outlined Race to the Top's shortcomings, such as a failure to address poverty and its effect on learning.
Connecticut failed to win Race to the Top grants three times when the competition was aimed at states.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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