371 Applications Received for District-Level Race to the Top

The U.S. Department of Education received 371 applications from 1189 school districts all racing to the trough to receive a slice of the $383 million pot.  Unlike last time the district-level Race to the Top required union officials to agree to the school district’s reform plan.  Which pretty much guarantees it’ll be worthless.

Jackie Zubrzycki pointed out that just because the union officials signed off it doesn’t mean the union members are happy.

A number of districts had trouble getting their unions to sign off on the Race to the Top proposals, which I wrote about for this week’s issue of Education Week. (You can find more details about those squabbles here.) Two California districts, Glendale and Los Angeles, submitted applications anyway. The requirement for union sign-off was new to this iteration of the competition, and may have been a lesson learned from previous federal grant programs, including Race to the Top: When unions don’t agree to grant requirements beforehand, programs sometimes don’t get implemented as intended.

In an interesting twist, in the Central Unified school district in California, the union’s president Gaye Lewis signed off on the district’s application—and then stepped down because the union’s members were upset with the decision.

Of course, some districts also didn’t apply for reasons unrelated to unions. Burlington, Vt., superintendent Jeanne Collins said that her district had simply decided that “jumping through the hoops” and spending time and money on the complicated application was not worth it. And some districts where there’s been notable district-union contention—Chicago, for example—did submit applications with union sign-off.

The Superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, Jonathan Raymond, gave a sharp critique of the program in a recent column.

I would argue that Race to the Top is hardly innovative – government using “carrot and stick” incentives to spur change is a centuries-old concept.  In fact, I would go a step further: Race to the Top’s heavy-handed, top-down mandates create division and derision within the public education community at precisely a time all sides should be coming together…

…Meanwhile, school districts that are making real, tangible strides to increase student learning are left behind in this “race.” In Sacramento City Unified, we are turning around seven low-performing schools (called Priority Schools) through research-proven strategies for raising student achievement. Six of the seven schools have shown dramatic increases in student achievement and dramatic improvements in school culture and climate. These strategies include relevant professional development for principals and teachers; collaborative teacher planning time; data analysis and inquiry; and building strong family and community engagement. With federal funding, we could take this pilot program to scale statewide. California districts could build on each other’s successes and the gains of districts across the country. This is exactly what federal dollars should be spent on.

Yet Race to the Top’s scripted approach effectively discounts these reforms because they do not fit into the neat categories created by the prescriptive program. Moreover, forcing school districts to compete for badly needed resources is like offering a starving man food but only if he agrees to whatever strings may be attached. This is certainly the choice that school districts like ours face in California.

Those are interesting objections.  He also objects to teacher evaluations being linked to assessments.  I’ve stated my opposition before and would like to reiterate that this program bypasses states.  Christel Swasey today reminded me that this program could push schools in states that rejected the Common Core, like Texas, to embrace the Common Core.  Federal involvement in education should be extremely limited (if not non-existent) and they should be dealing with states, not bypassing them to accomplish their goals.

After all of this time and effort is spent only 15-25 grants will be awarded of $5-40 Million each.

Education Under a Second Obama Term

Alyson Klein asks what would a second Obama term look like for education?

Oh my… do we really have to go there?

She points out what the Obama campaign said a campaign brochure that was released on Tuesday:

  • Cutting tuition growth in half over the next ten years; recruiting and preparing at least 100,000 new math and science teachers;
  • A plan to “strengthen public schools in every community,” in part by expanding Race to the Top to school districts
  • Offering states waivers from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act;
  • Using community colleges as economic development engines.

Well he’s been pretty upfront.  In the debates, Mary Grabar pointed out at P.J. Media that “ObamaCore” has been one of the few accomplishments he’s been able to point to.

Race to the Top may have been the one domestic policy initiative that did not garner the universal ire of Republicans — indeed, it has many GOP supporters. They likely do not realize what a monster they have birthed by promising to follow federal Common Core curriculum guidelines (in math and English/language arts, so far) as part of the Race to the Top contest for $4.35 billion in stimulus funds.

A second Obama term will further erode state and local control over education.  Folks, he’s saying he’s going to double down on Race to the Top at the district level – just by pass the states all together – who needs them?   He wants to do this in every community.  When somebody reveals themselves for who they are – believe them.  He wants to continue with his process of NCLB waivers in return for additional mandates.

Oh goody!

Almost 900 School Districts Race to the Trough

pigs-at-the-trough

A lot of competition for the District Level Race to the Top program… almost 900 districts for 15-20 grants.  So the Federal government can bypass states altogether in order to influence school districts.  Why deal with the middle man when you can just cut him out?  Via the American Association of Christian School’s weekly email The Washington Flyer:

The Department of Education announced that 893 school districts intend to apply for the latest Race to the Top competitive grant program. Approximately, fifteen to twenty winners will be awarded grants between 5 and 40 million dollars, totaling 400 million dollars. The intent to apply is non-binding but will allow the Department to plan for the upcoming applications. No districts in Wyoming and North Dakota indicated intent to apply. Many of the larger districts (Los Angeles, New York and Chicago) have applied with the notable exceptions of the Miami-Dade and Atlanta school districts. Education officials must demonstrate a coordinated effort to formulate personalized learning plans for each student.  The applications must be received by October 30 and all funds must be disbursed by December 31, 2012.

I’d love to know why Miami-Dade and Atlanta School Districts didn’t apply, if anyone has some insight into that please share.  Perhaps they realize that since the amount of the award will likely only make up 1%-3% of their budgets it was best not to accept the strings requiring costly reforms along with it.

Race to The Top IV: District-Level Race to the Top

Making school districts directly beholden to the federal Department of Education undermines, rather than advances, local control.

  • Announced by the US Department of Education (USDOE) on May 22, 2012, this program is designed to bypass states and go directly to local districts to persuade them to accept strings-attached federal grants. In this way, USDOE can undermine sovereign state decisions with which it disagrees.
  • The competition consists of a $400 million fund that will lure applications from eligible districts or groups of districts (defined as those serving at least 2,500 students, 40% or more of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch).
  • Districts will be expected to “create plans for individualized classroom instruction aimed at closing achievement gaps and preparing each student for college and career.”
  • “Eligibility . . . will be determined by a district’s demonstrated commitment to RTT’s four core reform areas.” These core areas include adopting standards acceptable to USDOE and building massive student-data systems.
  • Among the 17 categories of vague promises the competing districts must make is the requirement that they show they can track students from pre-K through college, and tie student outcomes back to individual teachers.
  • One of the more bizarre requirements is that competing districts promise to implement evaluation systems that consider student outcomes – not just for teacher and principal performance, but also for district superintendents and school boards. Is USDOE suggesting it can fire school boards if it deems them inadequate? Where does Arne Duncan get the authority to tell individual districts how to do their job?
  • The competition “offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to . . . offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs . . . .” So local schools will have to answer to School Superintendent Duncan for whether students are well-adjusted socially and emotionally.
  • This district-level program is a full-scale assault on state sovereignty. It is a power-grab through which the federal government will skirt citizens’ elected statewide bodies and negotiate directly with school districts to embrace federal policy. It will also undermine the state governmental structure by grouping school districts together on policy decisions and thereby making it more difficult for the group do disengage from federal programming.
  • The brief comment period ends June 8.

District-Level Race to The Top, Another Bad Idea on Top of a Pile of Bad Ideas

The U.S. Department of Education announced it’s $400 Million District-Level Race to the Top program last week.  Now they are totally bypassing the states and going straight to the school districts.  There are over 14,000 school districts in the country, but only those districts with a minimum of 2500 students and 40% of students who meet the poverty guidelines (those who qualify for free or reduced lunch) are eligible to apply for the grants. Smaller school districts may join with other districts to apply, even districts in other states. The DOE is encouraging districts within states to craft reform plans that incorporate the “four cornerstones” of improving teacher quality, school turnaround plans, student data collection, and standards and assessments.

Plans must have the signatures of the district superintendent, school board officials, and local union presidents (if there are any).  Ignoring federalism, state education chiefs have no power to veto the plans and are given just five days to comment on them.

They also want schools to stretch beyond focusing on academics:

The proposal offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to sustain their work and offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, and enhance their ability to succeed.

So we’re officially adopting the schools = social services agencies model.  Public comment lasts until June 8th and you can do that here.  And here we see yet another horrible, unconstitutional idea come out of the Obama Administration.