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Steiner, King and Hughes to lead New York's Race to the Top team

Yesterday, we wondered who would make up the team traveling to Washington to pitch New York’s Race to the Top proposal to federal officials.

Today, we know: State Education Commissioner David Steiner will be joined by his deputy commissioner, John King, along with Robert Hughes, president of the school support organization New Visions for Public Schools. Two other officials from the state education department, Ira Schwartz and Laura Smith, will also travel to D.C. to make the presentation, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said today.

Steiner and King, the top two officials at the state education department, are not surprises. Both have been among the most visible public faces of the state’s reform agenda, and Steiner’s plan to overhaul the way teachers are trained and certified is one of the centerpieces of the state’s Race to the Top application.

While not an official in the state or local education departments, Hughes is also well versed in the changes Tisch and Steiner have planned for the state.

Hughes’ organization started the city’s first “teacher residency” program, a model of teacher training praised by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that pairs student teachers with experienced mentors in the classroom as they simultaneously take graduate education classes. The program, which New Visions launched in partnership with Steiner in his previous post as dean of the Hunter College School of Education, is already being funded by a federal grant as part of Duncan’s push to improve teacher quality. Hughes has also said that New Visions would be a likely applicant for a program, proposed by the Regents, to allow alternative organizations to bypass education schools to certify teachers.

Tisch also cited Hughes as an expert on how schools can effectively use data to guide their work with students and on launching high schools, an area that will become key as the state attempts to replace its lowest-performing schools.

“Bob has a track record on this, and he is respected in every corner on this subject,” Tisch said. “I trust him, I trust his judgment.”

The two assistant commissioners traveling to Washington represent senior and freshman takes on the state education department. Steiner appointed Smith to the department in January, and since her arrival she has helped write the state’s Race to the Top application, Tisch said. Before her work with the state, Smith worked at the New York City Department of Education under Deputy Chancellor Chris Cerf and has also worked for the New York City Charter School Center. Schwartz, on the other hand, is a state education department veteran who heads the school accountability and improvement office, which will also play a key role in the state’s school “turnaround” efforts for low-performing schools.

The selections reinforce Tisch’s view that the strength of the state’s Race to the Top application lies in its proposals for teacher training, data systems and school turnaround. While the state legislature’s failed attempt to lift the cap on charter schools captured national attention and led many observers to believe that restrictions on the growth of charters could cripple the state’s application, Tisch has asserted that these other areas are the core of the application.

Other finalists are relying more heavily on their states’ political leadership to signal their commitment to reform. Governors of at least five of the 16 finalist states, including Florida Governor (and Senate candidate) Charlie Crist, are planning to appear. In announcing her appointments, Tisch took a small dig at states who plan to bring their biggest names to the presentations.

“What we’ve decided to do is truly put together a team of educational reformers,” Tisch said. “I know some other states will be sending some dignitaries…I hope people will understand we went with quality.”

Initial conversations with the federal Department of Education begin tomorrow, Tisch said.

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