If you missed Rick Hess’ blog interviewing Louisiana State Education Chief Paul Pastorek after the RTT Decisions were made, note two things.  First, in lieu of some of the shenanigans coming out of New Jersey and their loss, Secretary Pastorek gives us a lesson in grace.  When asked how he felt about winning states now coming to Louisiana for advice on how to implement their own RTT plans, Pastorek said, “We are sharing our work and our resources with education leaders and states… We will continue collaborating with them because we will all be better for it.  But it’s only human nature to question how some of these states who are relying on our models to implement their RTTT plan were selected for funding, while Louisiana wasn’t.  But dwelling on this won’t change the outcome. And the fact of the matter is that we’re all in this together.”

Second, even though Louisiana did not win Race to the Top, Pastrorek can already see where many winning states will fall short.  On the competition’s insistence that states bring in as many districts as possible, Pastorek said, “”I said this many times, in the [finalist] interview and publicly, that I didn’t think we could handle more districts than we were trying to include and yet achieve the objectives we were trying to achieve… Implementation at the scale the federal government has proposed, at ninety percent, which is implicitly what they’ve required, is going to be immensely difficult.”

But Pastorek goes further on some of the more fundamental issues we’re about to confront, stating, “One reason I think states are going to have a tough time implementing their plans is that state Departments of Education are not designed to implement these programs. We’ve spent a year redesigning our Department around our reform initiatives.  If you look at our organization today, it’s a radical change in how we’ve been doing business.  It’s revolutionary.  And I don’t think that Louisiana’s [RTT] score reflected the capacity we’ve created in doing so.”

At the heart of Pastrorek’s statements is that states have never really asked district’s to answer the question, “how will you radically reform yourself?”  Nor are they designed to behave in a way that promotes innovation among the places where the real work will occur- the district.  For all the thought and work that went into many applications, wouldn’t we be shocked to see states try to ignite a spirit of reform among districts with the tools of its trade to date (ie. top-down plans and compliance monitoring)?  But, that is what we are seeing.  We have worked with five states (both winners and losers) planning the implementation of RTT work, and only one of those five took seriously the task of re-orienting the LEA/SEA relationship to buttress their RTT Reforms.

In the interest of focusing on what is right, let’s skip what the states are not doing and get right to what we see in the state best positioned to ignite reform among its participating districts.

  1. First, it recognized that few people outside their core team remember the details of their plan.  To remind other parts of the state agency and the districts the reforms we are doing and the benefits of success, this state distilled the goals and theory of action in its proposal to three slides that anyone would understand.
  2. Second, it distilled all of the commitments of the state alongside the commitments of the districts so that districts could get a sober picture of the work in front of them.
  3. Third, this state structured a process with the participating districts to explore where they were most likely to fall short in executing their commitments in the plan.

Anyone with a word processor could replicate Steps 1 and 2, but it takes an unprecedented level of trust and collaboration between the state and district to do number three.  Yet, if districts do not know how they will be required to change as they implement the reforms we believe in, how can we ever expect them to be successful?