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Money talks; states, cities revamp policies to compete for Race to the Top funds

The Obama administration harnessed a strong public will and desire for change when it took office this year. Now that they’ve got the office, they’ve quickly learned how to issue a call to action: dangle lots of cash.

And some of the actions that states and districts are taking to have a chance to compete for the federal Race to the Top funds are pretty drastic, considering the typical slow churn of education policy.

California is the most obvious example, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is heeding what many saw as a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to change the state policy on teacher evaluations. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed a legislative initiative that would change the way student achievement data is used and allow student progress to be used in evaluating teachers. But what’s truly interesting about this situation is the predicament that it creates for the unions, particularly the mighty California Teachers Association, the state’s main teachers’ organization.

The CTA and other unions have pretty much gotten their way with the Democratic-controlled legislature over the years, including the approval of the 2006 law that banned the state from linking student and teacher data and now has irked the Obama administration.

Schwarzenegger is now seeking to undo that law, as well as remove caps on the number of charter schools, force districts to shut down or reconstitute their lowest performing schools, and adopt a merit-pay system, all in order to compete for the badly needed funds. He says that’s what Obama wants–and how can anyone, especially a union that supported Obama’s candidacy, argue against that? So instead, the CTA and other unions say these actions are premature, as the final regulations for the Race to the Top funds have not been announced yet.   

“This is a very significant step that absolutely has national implications,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.  “The eyes of the country are going to be on California.”

New York and Wisconsin are also not eligible for the Race to the Top funds because of their teacher evaluation policies, according to a report by the New Teacher Project.  In another dramatic move, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee schools as part of a plan to make the state more eligible.

What’s next? We’ll find out this fall, as the funds are distributed, whether any state’s plan made a difference. In the meantime, check School Board News’ story for more information on Race to the Top.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Naomi Dillon|September 2nd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , |

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