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Hartford, Bridgeport Fail To Win Race To The Top Contest


December 11, 2012

Connecticut has struck out again in the federal Race to the Top competition as both Hartford and Bridgeport lost out on a share of nearly $400 million awarded to school systems across the country Tuesday.

"Given the progress that Connecticut has made, I'm not only disappointed, I'm really kind of shocked," Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas said.

The government program that rewards aggressive education reform could have been a major lift to schools in the state's poorest cities.

Hartford and Bridgeport were among 61 finalists and each sought a four-year, $30 million grant to implement districtwide initiatives that school administrators believe could help close the achievement gap.

The Race to the Top contest was previously aimed at states and Connecticut had failed to receive funding three times over the past two years.

But reform advocates had believed that the state's recent education legislation, which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed in a trip to Hartford in May, would give a boost to local proposals on the national stage.

"I have to say that it's about time Connecticut starts winning federal approval," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had said during Duncan's spring visit in which the state was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

The 16 winners on Tuesday include KIPP DC, a charter school network that will receive $10 million; Middletown City School District in New York ($20 million) and Washington state's Puget Sound Educational Service District ($40 million).

"We wish we could have funded much further down the list," Duncan said. "We simply ran out of money."

Hartford school and city leaders had expressed confidence that their application, which had a signature of support from the teachers' union, would stand out from among the 372 submissions nationally. The city of New Haven, the Norwalk school system and the Capitol Region Education Council in Hartford also applied for Race to the Top grants but did not advance to the round of finalists.

While disappointed, Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement Tuesday that being a finalist "speaks well of the direction in which we are headed."

"We should be validated by it," school board Chairman Matthew Poland said. "We had a very strong proposal."

Hartford had sought to target grades 6 to 12, and one of the school system's plans was to provide a tablet computer to every city high school student and their teachers to improve technology and help "personalize" learning. The money would have funded 49 new staff positions, including more literacy coaches to help teachers and school counselors to guide students' academic and career interests.

Peer reviewers scored the applications. Hartford, for example, suffered from occasional vague statements, according to written comments.

"The applicant has identified the need to increase instructor effectiveness and it is not clear what the applicant means by 'dramatic' improvement," reviewers stated. In addition, they were unconvinced that Hartford would have enough funds to sustain the initiatives after the grant money was spent.

Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of ConnCAN, a New Haven-based education reform group, said Tuesday that Hartford and Bridgeport "have made major strides in improving their schools and addressing the concerns that Race to the Top was meant to address."

"Hopefully, they'll see this as an opportunity to move forward and work with the feedback they receive," Riccards said.

Bridgeport's reforms will continue but likely at a slower pace without the major infusion of federal dollars, Vallas said. They include plans for a universal, "cradle-to-classroom" early education program that would cover prenatal to age 3; implementing a teacher and principal evaluation system; and restructuring the city's high schools.

One goal is to have 9 out of 11 high schools become inter-district magnets.

While Bridgeport requested $30 million, Vallas said, he would have been pleased with anything north of $10 million.

"I always felt like if we were going to be successful, we were going to do it ourselves," said Vallas, who previously led reform initiatives in New Orleans, Chicago and Philadelphia. "And that's the position we find ourselves in."

Courant staff writer Kathleen Megan contributed to this report.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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