Education is Not a Competitive Sport

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For New Jersey, the Race to the Top was a race nobody won, especially not the students of New Jersey.

As an association specifically dedicated to leadership in education, we at New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, must express our deep disappointment in the loss of this critical funding and in New Jersey’s inability to secure a leadership role in a race we should have, by many measures of our previous success, actually won.

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When one looks closely at the points lost on the Round Two Race to the Top application, it is clear that technicalities and factors not associated with the instruction of children caused New Jersey to finish 11th, just one spot below where we would have had to finish to secure essential funding.

Points were lost, not in the core of our ability to provide a rigorous education today, but in the areas which supplement our ability to provide instruction in the future.

For instance, the grant reviewers rewarded us for our success in turning around failing schools and they rewarded our progress in ensuring quality educational standards and assessments. However, they also recognized our inability to track the progress of individual students throughout their lifetimes, as well as our current systems’ inability to analyze the effectiveness of instruction and leadership in the classroom and school building.

A plan to address this issue is long overdue, and requires real investment by New Jersey to ensure that our students receive the best education that the State can deliver, sustained over the course of their lifetimes. Our inability to attract the RTTT grant and prior data improvement grants through the federal government, makes it clear that New Jersey must show its commitment to data-informed instruction and improvement before the federal government will invest in us.

New Jersey also lost points by not providing budget data for the years the grant required data for—simply an oversight; or perhaps the result of a rushed application, as the data exists and was included properly in the original application.

Similarly, points were lost for a perceived lack of alternate routes to teacher and principal certification in the state. These programs do exist—we run one here called NJ Excel—so it is possible that the programs were not explained properly in the grant application—another technicality that might have been avoided.

Finally, and importantly, New Jersey lost points due to lack of stakeholder buy-in. The education community, in the days prior to the application’s ultimate modification and submission, came together in the belief that the reforms proposed by the State in the original application were what New Jersey’s students needed, and many of the goals therein were consistent with NJPSA’s mission to promote effective teaching and learning in New Jersey schools.

At that point in the process, NJPSA supported the application that represented the efforts of the major education organizations in the state—an application that also represented a good deal of compromise and a good-faith demonstration by NJPSA and other state organizations of the desire to work together with the state. But while the seeds of collaboration were sown in those early days, holding the promise of real cooperation, the State’s decision to move forward with its own application and without stakeholder buy-in changed the landscape. In fact, it likely cost New Jersey $400 million.

A lesson learned is that education is not a race, but a collaborative endeavor. Races are run by individuals, yet educating our youth is accomplished through the teamwork of parents, teachers, principals, community members, administrators, board members, and local and state officials. For New Jersey’s students to excel in the 21st century, we must set aside the rhetoric and competition and work together for the sake of our students.

New Jersey did not “win” this race, but that will not prevent the leaders and educators in New Jersey schools from continuing to provide the best education to our students. And as we’ve said here before, that is one measure—and obviously the critical one—that even Governor Christie’s Race to the Top application was forced to concede.

JoAnn Bartoletti
Executive Director
New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association


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