The give and the get from joining Race to the Top
The triumvirate responsible for the state’s application to the Race to the Top made one last push Monday to persuade local districts to join in. But they’re giving the boards of trustees, local teachers unions and superintendents only until Jan. 8 – 3 ½ weeks from now – to sign a memorandum of understanding, and they are requesting a letter of intent by Dec. 31.
Even after reading a long letter from Superintendent Jack O’Connell, State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell and Schwarzenegger’s secretary of education, Glen Thomas, discussing likely elements of the state plan, district superintendents and charter school principals may still be wondering if there is a there there. The letter is light on details and heavy with flattery. (“Our state includes some of the most diverse and innovative school and district practices in the nation.”)
The heavy lifting – working out details of the state’s plan, in collaboration with districts — would happen in first 90 days after the state won the money. Deputy Superintendent Rick Miller says that many other states are taking a similar approach. We’ll see whether the Obama administration would choose California — or any state — based on vague assurances.
Nonetheless, districts now have a much better sense of the obligations and benefits from participating.
The Give: Districts would have to agree to adhere to all four of Race to the Top’s principal areas of reform. For a while, it looked like districts could pick and choose among the elements – expanding the use of data but not revising teacher evaluations. They still can designate certain schools, however, instead of participating district-wide.
The Get: more money. The state could receive between $300 million and $700 million. The Assembly’s Race to the Top bill would require that 80 percent go to the districts. Districts can expect at least the equivalent of their Title I allocation — an estimated $5 million in the case of 31,000 student San Jose Unified.
With regard to the key elements of Race to the Top:
Standards and assessments: The state will blend California’s state standards with national common core standards, which will lead to rewriting assessments and adopting new textbooks over the next five years.
The Give: not much. It’s a state initiative.
The Get: Districts will pilot the new individual student growth accountability model, which could replace the API, have a say in the creation of curriculum frameworks, and get first crack at professional development money.
Data to improve instruction: The state will continue to build out its new data systems.
The Give: Districts must feed data that the state decides is needed, including information on the evaluation of teachers and principals; they must also create their own formative assessments to measure ongoing progress or adopt the state’s model.
The Get: Access to best practices and assessments compiled by the state and help in using data.
Teacher and principal effectiveness: Here’s where it gets tough, negotiating with unions on teacher evaluations.
The Give: Districts will work with their local teachers’ unions and principals to create new annual evaluations, using data on student performance as one factor, and use the evaluations as the basis for tenure, termination and compensation. They will also come up with a plan for the equal distribution of qualified, effective teachers in all district schools.
The Get: performance-based pay, with the promotion of and better compensation for good teachers, removal of bad teachers and more effective teachers in low-performing schools as a strategy to close the achievement gap. Also, more help and training for principals.
Turn around the worst performing schools.
The Give: Those districts with persistently worst performing schools, which the state will soon define, must choose a turnaround strategy: converting to a charter school, replacing the principal and at least half of the staff, or adopting a catch-all transformation strategy. What apparently won’t be demanded: a suspension of the collective bargaining agreement and involuntary transfer of some staff.
The Get: a ray of hope for families trapped in change-resistant, bad schools, plus extra money and collaboration with mentor schools for those schools choosing the transformation option.
Other parts of the plan: The state is promising a new era of collaboration with districts, including partnerships to share best practices. It will invite proposals from districts that want to improve science and math education through partnerships with universities, museums and research center; to explore innovative uses of technology; and to expand learning time through after-school and community programs.
What’s not to like about that?