Reforms shift to districtsRace to the Top districts come together
The creation of a foundation-funded non-profit organization led by seven superintendents is a further sign that the momentum for reform in California has shifted from Sacramento to school districts.
The seven superintendents, from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, Fresno, San Francisco, Sanger, and Clovis unified districts, led the state’s second-round application for the federal Race to the Top competition. Although they failed to win any money, they agreed that their collaboration was worth continuing. Now, with $3 million from the San Francisco-based Silver Giving Foundation, the seven will be able to continue their work through CORE, the California Office to Reform Education.
Both Phil Halperin, the benefactor behind Silver Giving, and Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson expressed optimism that other large foundations would contribute to the districts’ efforts. That would be a coup, since over the past year national foundations, including Gates and, to an extent, Hewlett, have pulled back from underwriting large-scale state-based reform initiatives in California, after they led nowhere. Hewlett funded the Getting Down to Facts studies of school governance and finance and the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, which Gov. Schwarzenegger promptly ignored. The Legislature has been consumed with budget deficits. Grassroots, district-led reforms represent a more promising strategy.
Silver Giving has created a second organization that will focus on district reforms: California Education Partners. One of the principals is Rick Miller, the former Deputy State Superintendent who organized the state’s first Race to the Top proposal.
As its name implies, CORE’s first project will be fleshing out the Common Core standards in math and reading, which California approved in August. The adoption of Common Core will require new textbooks, curriculum standards, teacher training, and assessments within the next four years, with no promise, other than end-of-the-year tests, the federal government will fund any of them.
Hanson said the seven districts initially will create formative assessments – diagnostics that help teachers with instruction – in math and writing for elementary and middle school, which will then be made available statewide. Then the seven partners will continue the work outlined in their Race to the Top application. These include creating a new system of evaluations, based on student achievement; sharing data to guide policy decisions; and developing effective models to transform failing schools.
Only Fresno’s teachers union signed on to the Race to the Top application, but Hanson said that all of the districts will work closely with their unions moving forward.
“We have long recognized that the capacity at the state and federal levels is not there to fix what ails us,” Hanson said. “We have the capacity within our districts” to make change.
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