1. If your state is creating a separate school district to manage turnaround schools, you need to need to cover this as you would any other district. Does it have a school board? What kind of oversight/public accountability will be built in?
2. I think a fairly decent if simplistic template for a few of these issues is: How are things done now? How will they be done? What is gained or lost in going from point A to point B—potential unintended consequences, intended consequences, etc. Take teacher evaluation as an example. It would be great to show people what evaluation looks like now (most people have no idea) and what will change in the futue—and what concerns/benefits there are around that.
3. Get into nitty-gritty on the teacher effectiveness measures. If the applications call for inclusion of “student achievement measures” beyond value-added scores, what will they be? What about teachers in non-tested grades and subjects? What will be done to address mobility, co-teaching, pull-outs, student absences and other factors that don't reflect individual teacher performance but could affect value-added scores? What are other places doing about this? (D.C., for example, has found some ways—as yet not well tested—to work around some of those issues, but it means that the vast majority of teachers won’t be judged on value-added anytime soon.)
4. Use of data. It’s all over these applications and the edusphere. Any in-school reporting you can do to show how teachers and principals do (and don’t!) use data now, what they do with conflicting pieces of data, whether they have the resources to deal with problems the data identify and so on would be extremely valuable.
5. Professional development! This is a big part of several proposals and allows for the opportunity to write about how ridiculous a lot of professional development is now and how while states promise all these things, and there are some promising models out there, I am not sure any have been proven successful. It would be great to have more detail in this area.
6. Principal quality! This gets just brief mention in some applications, but it is truly important and definitely undercovered.
7. Will there be a burden on small districts? How will they develop the capacity to administer various elements of the state proposals?
8. There is definitely a lot to be written about scale issues. Tennessee’s application suggests bringing in nonprofits and private groups to turn around 200 schools. Wait—did you say 200? Successful reform or start-ups have not happened on that scale—yet.
9. What happens if state leadership changes—the governor, the ed commissioner? Yes, promises are built into the application, but what about momentum and nitty-gritty planning? Do the people up for new leadership roles have people on their teams figuring out how they would keep the ball rolling on RTTT? They should.