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Howard schools miss out on Race to the Top grant

Renee Foose

The Howard County Public School System failed to make the list of finalists for millions of dollars in grant money as part of the Race to the Top District Grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

Finalists were announced last week. Nationwide, the grants will total nearly $400 million, which will be used to help personalize student learning, improve student achievement and educator effectiveness and to close the achievement gap.

The school system was awarded more the $800,000 over four years in 2010, as part of the first Race to the Top grant awarded to the state. This round of grants are awarded directly to districts.

The school system applied for the district grant the second week of November, but was met with opposition from the Howard County Education Association. The group voted against supporting the application, and President Paul Lemle — one of three necessary signatures on the application — refused to sign. The system applied for the grant anyway, after a 5-2 vote of support from the Board of Education.

Lemle said Race to the Top is unfair, does not work and hurts students. Howard's schools, he said, are better off without it.

"It puts factors that cannot be controlled, like attendance, readiness for school and particular classes, and intelligence, in teacher and principal evaluations," Lemle said, and the program doesn't work because it "doesn't provide useful or timely information about student learning to the people who can do something about it — the teachers who are currently working with the student."

Test scores arrive six months after students move on to the next grade level, Lemle pointed out, and "no currently available standardized tests measure student growth."

The only two Maryland school districts named finalists are Baltimore County and Baltimore City. Like Howard, Washington County Public Schools also failed to make the cut.

"It is disappointing that we will not be able to accelerate our efforts to personalize learning for students in our highly impacted schools, with the infusion of $30 million from the federal government," Superintendent Renee Foose said.

Of the 372 applications received by the federal government, 61 were named finalists. By Dec. 31, 15-25 districts will be named winners of the four-year grants, which will range from $5 million to $40 million.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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