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A little bit of a REAC3H

October 18, 2012

A year ago, the SDE launched a new initiative designed to support public schools: REAC3H (sometimes REAC3H; sometimes REAC3H). The acronym stands for Regional Educators Advancing College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness Higher.

The launch of REAC3H came with a summit last fall for more than 100 districts that were chosen to serve in lead roles. Actually, it was two summits – one for rural districts and another for urban/suburban districts. At the end of the day, superintendents in attendance were asked to come forward and sign a commitment letter that they had just received.

At that time, the stated purpose of REAC3H was to provide districts with collaboration opportunities to assist with the transition from PASS to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Problems with this were immediate. Some of the districts not selected to be leaders never heard from those that were. Some had robust curriculum departments, while others relied on teacher leaders to lead the implementation in their spare time. What was true during the implementation of PASS over 20 years ago was still true: districts are differently equipped to move through the change process. As such, implementation would not and could not be standardized.

To assist districts with the transition, the SDE began producing a series of toolkits. The first explained CCSS. The second discussed steps for aligning curriculum. The third then focused heavily on the soon-to-be announced Teacher/Leader effectiveness program.

This shift in focus led to schools asking questions during the second REAC3H summit in January. The third summit – held in the spring – was downright unruly. Schools kept asking questions – about all the reform initiatives – and not getting answers. There were some nice breakout sessions put on by schools, but nothing to help with systemic change. It was sort of a mini preview of Vision 2020.

Over the summer, REAC3H took on another meaning as 60 instructional coaches were hired to work with schools around the state. They are being paid this year with federal money that is set to expire, and Superintendent Barresi has included $5 million in funding in next year’s budget request to maintain the program.

Interestingly, the coverage areas for these coaches are not aligned at all with the REAC3H consortium. They operate in pairs, and for the most part, use office space in Career Tech centers around the state. Some serve only one or two districts.  Other pairs serve more than 20. They have been well-received in some places and kept at arm’s length in others.

At first, REAC3H coaches were going to help with every reform initiative. Now they are focusing on K-2 reading. Since many of the coaches were secondary teachers and may not even be certified in English/Language Arts, their impact may be questionable. (Though to be clear – many schools are reporting satisfaction with their REAC3H Coaches at this time.)

Last month, the SDE released the fourth REAC3H toolkit, providing insight to the testing process that will accompany full implementation of CCSS. Maybe I just find this amusing since the SDE can’t even seem to select a testing company. And they’re now set to hold the fourth REAC3H summit on Election Day (at a yet-to-be-determined venue – in Oklahoma City – probably). This one will have a different format again. Starting early in the morning, participants will again choose breakout sessions – few of which are related to the topic of the fourth toolkit. Then they will spend an hour at the end of the day in a keynote session with David Coleman, who is the head of College Board. The meeting has no built-in time for interaction with SDE staff or for collaboration.

Between the networks, toolkits, conferences, and coaches (and time and resources spent developing and supporting all of them), there are moments where people from disparate groups actually arrive at the same place at the same time. Unfortunately, they are quite rare.

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