RPM's Take on the Reward/Challenge Provisions of Blueprint for Reform

Last Updated: March 26, 2010

This article appeared in the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

REWARD schools, districts, states. Blueprint proposes rewarding schools, districts, and states that reach their performance targets, significantly increase student performance, close achievement gaps, or turn around lowest-performing schools. States will receive funding to design innovation programs to reward high-poverty Reward schools and districts, and Reward districts and states will have greater flexibility and competitive preference in grant applications.

CHALLENGE schools, districts, states. Blueprint identifies the lowest performing 5% of schools in each state at the initial “challenge” schools. These schools must implement one of four “turnaround” models: transformation, turnaround, restart, school closure. All these models require firing the principal, and all but transformation require firing at least 50% of teachers. Criteria are not indicated for identifying Challenge districts and states, but Challenge districts and states would face restrictions on use of ESEA funds and could be required to work with an outside organization to improve achievement.

Comment: Blueprint would provide funds to states to design innovative programs to reward high-poverty Reward schools and Reward districts. There’s a tacit recognition in that statement that something extra will be needed for high poverty districts. The history of state reward programs suggests that most rewards will go to low-need schools and districts. In terms of Challenge, turnaround models do not address the needs of rural schools and only the transformation model presents a viable option in most rural areas. Don’t look for persistently low-funded, low-performing states to take kindly to proposals to label them as Challenge states.

Read more from the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.