If state fails, districts can chase Race to the Top
Take heart, innovators in Long Beach Unified and union reformers and charter operators in Los Angeles. If California’s Race to the Top application flames out, there will still be opportunities for you.
On the day that California, 39 other states and the District of Columbia submitted their plans for the $4.3 billion grant competition, President Obama proposed adding another round – just for school districts. Assuming that Congress goes along, districts will compete for an additional $1.3 billion Race to the top grants later this year or early in 2011. That way, innovative districts won’t be cheated by governors, like Rick Perry of Texas, who refused to compete for the money – dismissing Race to the Top as a federal intrusion – or states that submitted pedestrian applications that were denied money.
California will learn whether it’s one of those in April, with the announcement of the first round of winners. It can then resubmit for a second round of money in June, with decisions in September.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wouldn’t predict how many states would get money in the first round, saying only it would go to “the best of the best.” Race to the Top handicappers are predicting California won’t be among them.
In the end, a respectable number of school boards, superintendents and charter school operators signed on to the state’s plan: 804, comprising 56 percent of the state’s 10,500 schools and, most significantly 61 percent of its students in poverty. But only 122 union locals signed MOUs, too, which will set back the state’s effort to encourage teachers to redesign their annual evaluations to include measures of student success – a key Race to the Top requirement.
California is from alone in having a small union participation. In Michigan, 42 locals out of about 600 joined the state’s plan; in Florida, only five unions out of 59 participating districts. But, in order to coax as many districts as possible to sign, California also made broad representations of what it would do with the money. The application said that the state would encourage districts to offer their own ideas, once the money was in hand. The state characterized that as defining a new collaborative relationship; the judges of California’s application simply may dismiss it as vague.
There’s no question that good would result if the state got as much as $700 million:
The state would:
- Redesign an accountability system that measures individual students’ growth over the course of a year. California has long complained about the punitive nature of the No Child Left Behind law, because it fails to credit progress toward proficiency.
- Create a program to train principals to lead efforts to turn around failing schools;
- Expand the number of small high schools with engineering, science and other career themes;
- Establish regional innovation centers, run out of county offices, to work with districts;
- Redesign the API scoring system with more emphasis on science and math;
- Hold public universities more accountable for teacher training programs and create alternative certification opportunities for science and math teachers.
These are good ideas; state education leaders have talked about them for years. Whether they’ll stand out in judges’ eyes is another question.