I was invited to attend the ARRA briefing over at the US DOE today. For us, the briefing actually provided a little more information than previous top line discussions. In times of great change, effective organizations over-communicate. With ARRA, the US DOE is definitely making sure that they do that and it is appreciated by many. This extra communication is certainly keeping people from finding things not to like about the recovery money (see – I didn’t call it stimulus so their communication plan is working).
There are two great things about these briefings that are very noticeable. The first is that Secretary Duncan is so careful to always start with the positives. Whatever he is talking about, he always starts with the positive and continues to prefer the carrot to the stick. In this case, states forgoing the carrot (in this case the carrot takes the form of billions of dollars) will feel like they actually got the stick since they will lose billions. The second is John Schnur – if someone in the audience brings up something they don’t like, rather than debate, he asks for input on how to handle it better. It is so refreshing to have people admit that they don’t have all the answers and really seem to want everyone involved in making the program better. It is really disarming to the questioner which makes it quite enjoyable to watch since most questions are really just a ploy to get your organization noticed (disclosure: I have done this in the past).
However, they have got to find some new words. I wish that I would have written down how many times “unprecedented” and “dramatic” were used. No one would argue that the amount of money is unprecedented and that for that much cash we do need to see dramatic results – but it became a little funny towards the end as it seemed to be used in every third sentence.
The big take away for ABCTE is the Race to the Top funds (should we call this RTTT or R3T). There are $5 billion to fund this race. Approximately $4.35 billion will be given to the states that, through their ARRA spending, really demonstrated that they are working towards true reform with increased student success. The remaining $635 million will be distributed through the Office of Innovation and Improvement(OII) through existing programs and some new programs. It is clear that Jim Shelton, formerly of Gates, is now fully in charge of OII and ready to go since he stepped up and did a lot of the talking on RTTT. We should see some RFPs flowing here over the few months. I believe that they want to have the RFP process completed by end of the fiscal year and the money distributed in spring and summer of 2010. Very ambitious.
The Secretary also continued his theme of wanting to see more local courage and less adult dysfunction. He is correct. If that actually happens maybe the unprecedented will actually lead to the dramatic.