Now or never to sign Race to the Top MOU
A 19-page memorandum of understanding for signing up for Round 2 of Race to the Top went out Monday. District, county offices of education and charter schools will have only until Wednesday to indicate whether they’re in or out.
This time, there will be no coaxing or convincing, with a wink or a nod, that districts can always back out later if they don’t like the terms. This time, the state’s not going all out to build a big tent of participants at the sacrifice of strong commitments. This time, superintendents, local union presidents and presidents of the boards of trustees should sign the dotted line only if they’re prepared to agree to a specific and lengthy set of reforms.
They will include:
- Making sure that an equitable proportion of effective teachers and principals are placed in high poverty and high minority schools, with the use of incentives to attract them there.
- Adding at least one STEM-related career technical program and the number of STEM-related AP or International Baccalaureate courses.
- Adopting and using local data systems to improve instruction and have every teacher trained and capable of using it (in other words, if your district doesn’t already have a data system in place, don’t join);
- Creating a new teacher evaluation system that uses multiple measures to identify student academic growth; at least 30 percent of the annual evaluation will be based on student growth, however defined;
- Establishing a teacher effectiveness rating system, based on teachers’ evaluations, that will give teachers designated as ineffective two consecutive years an additional two years to take advantage of supports and training; those who remain ineffective will be dismissed;
- Having all teachers use formative and interim assessments in addition to end of the year tests
- Agreeing to adopt one of four strategies for schools in the bottom 5 percent of the worst performing schools. These options are close, open as a charter school, hire at least 50 percent of new staff or remake the school using a series of measures that the MOU lists.
There will be at least seven unified school districts – Los Angeles, Fresno, Long Beach San Francisco, Sanger, Clovis and, the newest, Sacramento City – that will sign the MOU; they have led the effort to reapply. Whether all of their unions will join with them, including United Teachers Los Angeles, is the big unanswered question.
Regardless of whether the state can overcome a dismal first round score to qualify for federal money – as much as $700 million – the fact that districts representing at least a million students pledged to take serious actions to significantly improve how they do business is in itself quite remarkable.