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Arizona making second try in US education contest

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and her education advisers are trying to rebound from the state’s poor finish in the initial round of a competition for new federal funding.

Brewer’s education council on Thursday was briefed on preparations to submit an application for $250 million under the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program’s second round by the June 1 deadline.

“Our mission is to reinvent Arizona’s competitiveness at all levels,” said Brewer, citing the state’s changing economy.

Key aspects of the state’s proposal include adoption of new state support for lowest achieving schools, better use of data to shape instruction and developing new assessments of education achievement.

Other parts of the application deal with teacher training and evaluations, instruction standards and state funding.

Officials said the application process will help produce a comprehensive plan for the state to improve its education system, regardless of whether or not it wins new federal dollars as part of the education component of the federal government’s economic stimulus program.

“We then help provoide the road to where we want Arizona to be in education in the future,” said Carol Peck, the education council’s chair.

The federal program’s reviewers faulted Arizona’s initial application, partly for lack of specifics on how improvements would be implemented.

Brewer and others said that will be remedied in the second try, partly through the hiring of consultants who worked on successful state’s applications.

“We have secured the resources to fix that,” Brewer said. “Fortunately, despite our score, it wasn’t a shortage of ideas that Arizona lacked.”

New legislation enacted on third-grade social promotion, teacher evaluations, school labeling and other education topics since the initial application was submitted also could help Arizona’s chances by demonstrating a commitment to reform, officials said.

That legislation builds on a recent history of education innovation, including charter schools and open enrollment, said Paul Koehler, one of the consultants and a former Arizona school district superintendent.

“There’s not another state that has a 15-year history of charters like we do,” Koehler said. “I think we’re going to be in a competitive position.”

The support for poor-performing districts will be based on new regional support centers that would provide experts to assist local officials to align curriculum and assessments. officials said.

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