Duncan to State: No way on RTTT

He, Brown exchange big (Thanksgiving) bird
By

(TOP-Ed writer Kathy Baron co-wrote this post.)

In another cockfight between California and Washington over education, the U.S. Department of Education has rejected California’s application – and only California’s application – in the third round of Race to the Top. The denial exasperated the seven California school districts that led the state’s effort and were counting on $49 million earmarked for California as critical to do the work they had committed to do.

In a statement Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst each criticized the federal government’s inflexibility in not accepting what they described as California’s “innovative” approach of giving control of the reforms to local school districts. Seven unified districts, including Los Angeles, Frenso, and Long Beach, formed a coalition known as CORE, the California Office to Reform Education, to compete for round three and work together on the reform.

Torlakson also said the federal government failed to scale back its expectations for Race to the Top reforms during this fiscal crisis. “I had hoped the federal Administration would be mindful of the financial emergency facing California’s schools and the severe constraints it has placed on state resources,” he said. (In the third round of RTTT, the federal government slashed the available funding from $3.4 billion to $200 million. For California, that reduced the potential award from as much as $700 million to $50 million.)

The federal government saw things differently. In a statement congratulating the other seven states in line for the money, federal officials said California “submitted an incomplete application.”

As we reported here on Tuesday, Kirst, Torlakson, and Gov. Brown, who is vacationing this week, submitted only a two-page letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that indicated that the state was fine with just the seven districts undertaking the reforms.

What state officials didn’t do was submit and sign the official short application, which, the Department ruled Wednesday, disqualified California.

Failure to sign wasn’t simply an oversight; it reflected a fundamental disagreement about what California was asked to commit to. In the second round of RTTT, the state had agreed to four broad areas of reform:

  • Implementing Common Core standards;
  • Building data systems to measure student growth and success in order to improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, training, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;
  • Turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

In being asked to reaffirm these reforms for round three, the state and CORE districts had very different interpretations. The districts believed that nothing had changed; they remained committed to the four reform areas agreed to in the second round. All that Brown and the others had to do was simply acknowledge that the Legislature hadn’t passed any laws reversing the commitments made in round two.

“It was a unique application that only committed participating districts to reforms,” said Rick Miller, executive director of CORE, which represents the districts.

Brown and Torlakson objected to making any statewide commitments dealing with teacher effectiveness and how to treat failing schools. They also didn’t want to be tied to explicit reforms approved by Gov. Schwarzenegger in the second round application. One in particular, strongly opposed by the California Teachers Association, would have committed the CORE districts to linking standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

State Board President Kirst agreed with that interpretation. “The issue is not what the districts committed to but what the state was committed to,” said Kirst. “The second round application was slippery in terms of what was committed; it mixed up state and local roles.”

Kirst, Torlaskson, and Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education, have had ongoing conversations with top federal education officials. As recently as this week Kirst spoke with Duncan and expressed his reservations.

The state’s interpretation baffled Fresno Unified Superintendent Mike Hanson, who said he thought the CORE districts had an understanding with the governor to submit the round three application. “I find it hard to believe that whatever gap existed in the end could not have been bridged by having representatives from Sacramento, D.C., and CORE sit down and talk it out,” said Hanson.

Fresno and the other six districts were going to use the federal money to prepare teachers to make the transition to Common Core and build local data systems to share information and their successes. They’ve been starting to do this work using some small foundation grants, but Hanson said the $49 million would have been “jet propulsion for us,” and the results would have been available for all districts in the state.

“We missed a big opportunity, probably the last opportunity” for a major federal grant, said Hanson.  “That money is now going to go to another state to help make those kids more competitive.”

12 Comments

  1. Any talk of delaying the implementation of Common Core?

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  2. Brown, by looking out for union interests, has inadvertently avoided a further commitment to Common Core, the money-pit disguised as Super New Standards.  I would like to see Brown and Torlakson threaten Duncan with a complete pull-back from Common Core, effected easily enough by a Board review of the decision to adopt taken under Schwarzenegger.

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  3. The public education administrative class, being rational beings, embrace the Common Core because it takes near-term focus off implementation of the state standards in anticipation of a 2-3 years period of adjustment to the Common Core. Bottom line? we have again kicked the can down the road. Its entirely likely that when we are finally adjusting to the Common Core the self-interested political class will engineer another change and kick the can again. Some children will be left behind.

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  4. As the pattern emerges from the tangle of proposals, grants, manipulations, collaborations  and final decisions, I am saddened to have to agree completely with the comment of Richard O’Neill (no relation) above. Providing a better education for the children coming through the door of California public schools is thwarted by the  teachers’ problematic, powerful and narrow-interest unions, but the “public education administrative class” is just as culpable as the shortsighted politicians.
    One-time “stimulus” funds where I live are now exhausted — and they were used helter-skelter anyway,  for a patchwork of services  and  makeshift job descriptions that had no coherence or longevity. As things stand, just throwing money at the wall is a waste. Only when everything is in ashes,  the phoenix may rise again. But meanwhile, witnessing the process is excruciating. “Some children will be left behind.”

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  5. Richard O’Neil: Precisely.
     
    What’s not to like from the system’s point of view? Another 5 years of spending time and money on “aligning, adjusting, tuning” the curriculum; innumerable workshops, seminars, conferences to travel to, only this time they are nation-wide rather than only state-wide like before; and, at the end, complaints that there was no sufficient funding and hence “let’s put yet more  money in the system.”
     
    Hey, everybody wins here. Except yet another generation of kids.

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  6. Frances, the CORE districts have been doing the serious teacher training and interdistrict sharing of information and classroom practices that we should be applauding and encouraging. They’ve been taking the lead while most have been waiting on the sidelines for the state to provide guidance on Common Core. That’s why the failure of the governor to put his signature on the form is discouraging.

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  7. This could be one of California education’s finest hours!
    Let’s choose introspection -which costs nothing- over blaming others, for not catching the gold ring on the Duncan-Obama merry-go-round.  The fed;s punitive ideas aren’t good enough for students, anyway, and we should admit that. California refused to sell its soul, amidst tempting conditions; other states capitulated.
    California has taken the first, bold step for returning to a worthwhile Education. The other steps are important, too. Eventually, I’d hope that our students, along with all students, deserve far better than the adult political games they have been subjected to, and the broad curriculum that has evaded them.
    Yes, there will be less money.  Less money for tremendous busywork that wasn’t necessary in the first place.  Can we use some well established, respectable curriculum that we already have? Standards, Scope & Sequence of Concepts, Skills…nothing new.   Perhaps our children. again,  can learn history and civics, arts -not justified as incidentally taught for ELA and Math?
    Yes, there may be adult jobs in jeopardy, esp those whose livelihood, or job assignments, have depended upon promoting newness. Pity the Powerpoints that may go unused, all the projector bulbs not burning out. We might have to excuse ourselves from continuously feeding new business to the corporations who are using our kids’ performances for their profit.  Or will we? Perhaps, if the Governor and Supt of Instruction are subject to severe criticism for exacerbating public school problems, they, too will succumb to getting available resources – those that will further privatize our schools. I hope not.
     

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  8. Many of the comments assume that Race to the Top, like its progenitor No Child Left Behind, are good for children. They are not. Since NCLB, the rate of improvement on NAEP has slowed or stalled, while curriculum has narrowed and that which remains has become largely test prep. This will not be solved by a new, marginally different generation of tests, nor by the standards. In any event, between massive underfunding of public schools in CA and massive child poverty, many children will continue to be left behind; the situation is worse with the consequences of test-based accountability.

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  9. Even though I am a proud member of the Advisory Board of TOP-Ed and I often do read the editorials, I almost never post. However, I just had to say “amen” to George Huff’s and Monty Neil’s  comments! As Founder, President/Executive Director of the California Alliance of American Educators (CAAAE), it has been beyond painful to watch children who look like me being used to satisfy the always-shifting “priorities” of people more bent on lining their pockets than educating for liberation. Don’t get me started!

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  10. If the state’s signature would have meant that our district was bound to the conditions for round 3 but got none of the money, then I am extremely glad to have the application rejected.
     
    I would agree with the notion that the absurd requirement to adopt Common Core in one academic year would be actively harmful to kids. It can wait, such as it is, to be adopted in the next curricular cycle, and it can wait until there is money to support it.
     
    Adopting new curriculum in a year when we are actively discussing lopping 12 school days off the calendar for financial reasons would be a clear failure of priorities.

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