A year’s worth of planning, writing, and policy changes.  Four year’s worth of implementation, advocacy and radical overhauls.  Fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013, is the final year ofTennessee’s Race to the Top grant (RTTT).  Schools, school districts, and Tennessee’s Department of Education are drawing down on the last of the $531 Million awarded to the state with the purpose of “turning around the ocean liner on a dime,” “fixing the airplane in mid-flight,” or whatever other metaphor we were using back then to describe heavy lifting education reform (small “e”, small “r”).  June 27, 2014, the RTTT water is turned off.

Some might question me asking, “What have we learned,” with still a year to go in the plan. However, it is essential that those of us who have been involved in RTTT implementation begin communicating back to policy makers on next steps. In one year, the brakes get slammed hard at just the moment all of our momentum is moving forward at breakneck speed.  When that happens, no one will be asking what we learned.  Everyone will be grabbing on to the seat belt trying to survive.  Research and data will go out the window.  No project will stand out over another.  Large projects will look more important than small projects.  Simple to understand will win out over complex and effective.  Urban will battle rural for continuation funds.  Policy makers will look at what programs can be saved based upon expense and who is yelling the loudest versus what they should save based upon impact on economic development, workforce development, community improvement, and the future of our state.

It’s worth repeating; those of us who have been in the trenches of RTTT implementation need to be communicating with policy makers on what we have learned.  All of the data might not be in but we shouldn’t wait for perfect data when we have great data available to guide us and start a conversation.  And I would think our policy makers would want to be seeking us out right now, while the weather is nice.  Not in the middle of winter during the legislative session when the vehicle runs out of gas and is coming to an immediate halt.

This education beast runs on fuel.  It’s not a perpetual motion machine.  If there are effective initiatives that need to be sustained in order to meet our benchmarks for graduation and college success, don’t be fooled, they are going to need funding.  Not that the best and brightest ideas will necessarily need that heavy of an investment.  Some of the most effective innovations I’ve seen coming out of our RTTT college access pilot projects have sprouted from the teacher/counselor down the hallway who had some non-linear thought that was relatively inexpensive.

RTTT began with policy and moved to implementation.  Now it is time for the implementers to put the ball back in the policy makers’ court and tell them what is working and what isn’t.  What needs to be funded and what needs to be let go in order to keep moving forward.   Otherwise, what was the point?

This blog was originally posted to http://tncollegeaccess.org/ on June 24, 2013.