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Educators await peer review of Race to the Top proposal

Flickr photo by San Jose Library

An obscure peer review panel is deciding the fate of California's application for $700 million to fund its K-12 schools in Round 2 of the Obama administration's $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition. 

That proposal was submitted to Washington on June 1. Further scrutiny of the peer review process is warranted in light of California's lack of success in the first round, as well as on another grant proposal to set up a longitudinal data system to track California students from kindergarten into college and eventually into the workforce. 

Keric Ashley, director of the Data Management Division in the California Department of Education, spent months preparing the $20 million proposal, alongside representatives from the state's public K-12 and higher education systems, to help establish a longitudinal data system.

The Obama administration has made setting up such a system an important element in judging whether states should be awarded several federal education grants. 

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, in the competition for the longitudinal data system, California came in a miserable 26th out of 53 proposals. Only the first 20 states were funded, including Arkansas ($9.8 million), Virginia ($17.5 million) and Maine ($7.3 million).

Ashley feels that if he or others involved with writing the proposal had been able to respond to the reviewers' questions, their concerns could easily have been addressed. 

He said that because the proposal guidelines restricted the narrative portion of the proposal to 20 pages, the proposal writers had to leave out numerous aspects of what California already had done to set up its existing longitudinal data system, called CALPADS (California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System).  

He said several of the reviewers raised concerns about the systems California already has in place, such as the training that local school districts had received to collect data on students – while the proposal California submitted focused on what the state intended to do in setting up a more comprehensive data system. 

"We did not want to waste space describing something that we didn't think was a necessity," he said.

Ashley also expressed concerns that the reviewers seemed to be most supportive of states that already had strong data systems in place. "Those who had good strong data systems and had for many years, seemed to get funding, and those of us who are struggling to put in place a system, got nothing, or very little," he said.

The Institute of Education Sciences officials in the U.S. Department of Education that oversaw the peer review process pointed out that California has gotten funding in earlier years for its longitudinal data system, so the system is not biased against California in any way. 

California will try to move ahead to develop aspects of the longitudinal system it was seeking federal funds to establish, Ashley told me. But without federal funds it will be limited in what it will be able to do. 

"Until there are more resources at a state level, we are going to depend on our federal partners to develop such a system," he said.

Wonky stuff, I know, but when hundreds of millions are at stake, affecting 1 in 8 public school children in the United States, a comprehensive review of "peer review" is in order.

 More to come. 

Filed under: K–12, Daily Report

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