Tag Archives: race to the top

Irony, anyone?

Listening to Stan Goldberg’s interview with UESF’s Dennis Kelly. In his comments, Dennis reminded me that Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Paul Revere Elementary with great fanfare last May, hobnobbing with principal Lance Tagomori, students and teachers.

What a difference a year makes! Last month, the state named Paul Revere as one of the 5 percent of schools in the state classified as “persistently underperforming.” As a consequence of landing on the list, a school has four options — every one of which involves replacing the principal.  Sadly, Mr. Tagomori has told his school community that he has chosen not to come back to Paul Revere next year. (I need to say here that the district is not, at this moment, planning to fire any of the principals at the 10 schools — at five of them the site administrator has been in the job less than two years, and so are exempt from the potential consequences).

If Secretary Duncan shows up again, maybe we shouldn’t let him visit any schools!  Just kidding — really, the state is the entity that placed Paul Revere on the list of persistent underperformers. But it’s also true that the state’s policy arose out of our efforts to qualify for Race to the Top; by all indications the administration’s flawed policy prescriptions are soon to become the law of the land through the reathorization of No Child Left Behind (now “rebranded” the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA). So the Secretary must share the blame for pulling the rug out from under schools like Paul Revere.


What to do with ‘persistently underperforming’ schools?

Tomorrow night, the Board will hold a Committee of the Whole (meaning, essentially, a policy discussion with no action items) to discuss the Superintendent’s plans for our 10 schools labeled “persistently underperforming” by the state.
This list was created as part of the state’s efforts to qualify for Race to the Top. It designates five percent of the state’s schools as failing, and prescribes one of four turnaround models for districts to take. There’s no choice in the matter, though it’s unclear under state law when these actions would have to be taken. If, however, a district wants to apply for Federal funds to help implement one of the turnaround models, it must submit a plan in the next few weeks — and begin the work within six months.
I am not crazy about any of the turnaround models. They assume that school leaders are so stupid that d’oh! We never thought of replacing principals! We never thought of reconstitution (which we tried in this district and which failed, miserably)! Charter schools! Wow! (Even though charter schools have as mixed a record as traditional public schools — no miracles here.) School closure! (How does closing a school affect the achievement of its former students, exactly?) Disliking the so-called “turnaround” models doesn’t mean endorsing the status quo; none of these models have any serious research behind them to prove their efficacy – the record is mixed at best. These prescriptions are essentially an effort by the Department of Education (and our state Legislature, which went even beyond the Federal requirements to qualify for Race to the Top) to throw a bunch of ideas at the wall and see what sticks, damn the unintended consequences.

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And the winners are . . .

Delaware and Tennessee win the first round of Race to the Top — $600 million total ($100 million going to tiny Delaware and $500 million going to Tennessee).  Education Week’s analysis finds that these two states really stood out when it came to stakeholder support, especially union support.  But the magazine’s Politics K-12 blog also speculates that politics could have had something to do with the selection because two key Republican moderates hail from those states:

 Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del . . . are the ranking minority members in the subcommittees in their respective chambers dealing with K-12 policy, and both are considered leading moderate voices on education who have worked well with Democrats in the past. In fact, in an interview with the Washington Post’s David Broder, Secretary Duncan singled out Alexander and Castle as the two Republicans who had offered ideas that were incorporated into the administration’s ESEA blueprint.Of course, the Obama administration has stressed repeatedly that politics would play absolutely no part in Race to the Top and set up a process intended to keep just these sort of considerations out. But the fact that Tennessee and Delaware apparently submitted such stellar applications might be a lucky break for the administration as its works to get GOP support for its ESEA ideas.

Update: the Dept. of Education has posted all the score sheets and reviewer comments for each state’s application. California came in 27th out of 40 states and did particularly poorly on its discussion of data systems to support instruction.

And that’s that: no RttT funds for California (for now)

This morning the Department of Education released the list of finalists for the first round of Race to the Top funding, and California isn’t on the list.  The state can apply for future rounds of funding, with Round 2 applications due June 1.

Individual districts can also apply for innovation grants, and my understanding is that we (SFUSD)  have applied for one. Stay tuned.

Administration to announce Race to the Top finalists

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will announce finalists for Race to the Top grants tomorrow, reports the Wall Street Journal (winners will be announced in April):

The Department of Education turned to a panel of outside judges to help pick finalists and winners according to an elaborate scoring system, and on Thursday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will announce finalists for the first of two rounds of funding. Administration officials declined to comment, but people familiar with the deliberations said as few as five states could actually qualify when the first round of winners is announced in April.

The competition has unleashed widespread speculation over which states are most likely to emerge as favorites. Education lobbyists and academics have spent weeks scouring the applications, which weighed in at more than 24,000 pages. Experts said Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Delaware, Colorado and Rhode Island put forward particularly strong applications, with Georgia, Illinois and Indiana also mentioned.

Applications from California and other states are posted here.

Obama set to overhaul NCLB – NY Times

The lead story in this morning’s New York Times is a peek at the Obama Administration’s plans for NCLB (No Child Left Behind, now re-christened ESEA — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). First passed with great bipartisan fanfare by the Bush Administration in 2000, NCLB sought to focus attention on achievement gaps between different groups, and require all schools across the country to close those gaps by 2014.

Well, here it is a decade later, and we’ve certainly focused on achievement gaps in the past decade, but the goal of bringing all children to proficiency still seems far off. In the meantime, the law has labeled thousands of schools as “in need of improvement,” and come under a great deal of fire for being all stick and no carrot (because it set penalties for failing to reach “adequate yearly progress” but offered few additional resources to help schools get there).

So it comes as a relief that, according to the Times report, the Administration seems willing to abandon the 2014 deadline, as well as other provisions:

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Malcolm X Elementary illustrates issues with Race to the Top

Under the Federal government’s Race to the Top guidelines, states must pledge to implement one of several models to turn around their lowest-performing schools if they accept a Race to the Top grant. Essentially, those models give us the following options:

  • Close the school;
  • Convert the school to a charter;
  • Replace school staff and/or the school principal.

And there’s the rub. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about one of our lowest-performing and most troubled schools, Malcolm X Elementary, and profiled its new principal, Imani Cooley. Ms. Cooley jumped at the chance to lead Malcolm X this year, and by all accounts, she is an experienced and caring administrator. If San Francisco Unified is awarded a Race to the Top grant, her school could receive additional support, but we could also be required to replace her. That’s one of my problems with the school reform models in the policy: they don’t acknowledge that perhaps local school districts have been thoughtful in their hiring practices, and have put in place educators like Ms. Cooley to lead their most troubled schools.

A flurry of activity ahead of Race to the Top deadline

In Sacramento today there was a flurry of activity to pass legislation that would allow the state to apply for up to $700 million in Federal Race to the Top funding.  Passed by the Assembly this evening and scheduled for the Senate tomorrow, the legislation takes several steps to bring California law into alignment with the requirements of Race to the Top, including:

  • tracking students’ achievement longitudinally as they move through the state’s education system;
  • enabling local districts to use test scores and other achievement data to evaluate teachers and principals; and
  • adopting several options for overhauling failing schools, including outright closure, replacing leadership and staff, or converting a school into a charter (neither the Federal guidelines nor the legislation specify what school districts should do with a failing charter – presumably revoke its charter and turn it back to a traditional public school?).

But the legislation doesn’t stop there – it also makes sweeping changes to the state’s open enrollment law and gives parents at a failing school the power to trigger one of the reform options. Students at one of the state’s roughly 1,000 failing schools would be allowed to apply to higher-performing schools anywhere; local districts would adopt their own rules governing how and when to accept these transfers.  The parent “trigger” would work by allowing a majority of 50 percent or more of parents at any of the state’s failing schools to request that one of the reform options (e.g., closure, charter conversion, replacing staff) be implemented.

School boards and the state’s labor unions are united in their opposition to these last two provisions, let alone many of the provisions in the original Federal Race to the Top guidelines. But the money the Federal government is dangling will probably prove to be too much to pass up. Indeed, the Superindent has called a Special Meeting of the Board on Thursday evening to ask for authorization to enter into the required Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California — this MOU must be submitted to the state by Friday so that the state can include it with its application to the U.S. Department of Education, due in Washington by January 19.

My own misgivings about this plan center both on the narrowminded insistence on test scores as a way to measure teacher quality and the rather heavy-handed approach to school reform. There are things I like about the parent trigger, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that charters always represent reform – since there are both good and bad examples.  A nice summary of other uncertainties in the Federal rules and the state’s response to them is here, from the California School Boards Association. The California Teachers Association’s alert to its members, asking them to work to defeat the bills, is here. For its part, the California PTA is generally supportive of the legislation currently under debate.

Race to the Top: the plot sickens

California’s effort to qualify for Race to the Top funds is proceeding in true California fashion – the Assembly has passed Julia Brownley’s ABX5 8, a bill that would address some of the kookier aspects in Senator Romero’s SBX5 1 and presumably still allow California to qualify for a grant. Meanwhile, the Senate has moved some of the SBX5 1 language into a new bill, SBX5 4 (Steinberg/Romero), and sent that on to the Assembly. So the stage appears to be set for a confrontation, if anything resembling a confrontation is possible as Sacramento turns into a ghost town for the Christmas and New Years holidays.

The stakes are high. School districts that want to receive Race to the Top funds (assuming California gets its act together, or the Obama administration takes pity on us and gives us money anyway) must return signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to the state by January 8; declarations of intent to apply must be filed by Dec. 31 . But here’s the rub – the state is going to ask school districts to agree to do something groundbreaking in those MOUs, but no one — either at the state level or the local level — is sure exactly what. In other words, the state is saying to Superintendents, school boards and local union leadership (all of whom must sign said MOU to have the best chance of qualifying for dollars) – “Just go ahead and sign! You trust us, right? We’ll figure out the details later.” Uh, no.

You think I sound too skeptical? Maybe it’s because I read this advisory from the California School Boards Association.

Growing opposition to ‘Race to the Top’

I’m in San Diego this week at the California School Boards Association Annual Conference, and California’s efforts to qualify for Race to the Top funding are Topic Number One. From where I’m sitting, it looks to me like local school boards are growing increasingly disenchanted with the Obama Administration’s central education reform strategy. As one Southern California school board member memorably put it yesterday, “Are we willing to take the carrot [Race to the Top funding] for poor public policy that I’m going to have to live with for the next 10 or 11 years?”

This Hobson’s choice couldn’t come at a worse time for California school districts, which have already cut millions and are looking at cutting millions more in the years to come (we also got a pretty depressing budget outlook, which I’ll post later). It’s sure tempting to look at the possibility of California receiving up to $700 million in RtTT funding as a way to cushion that blow; but more and more I’m concluding that the price is just too high. What is that “price,” exactly?

  • a strange fascination with charter schools, despite the fact that research shows that the track records of charter schools in raising student achievement are as mixed as traditional public schools’;
  • a narrow-minded insistence on linking student test scores with teacher evaluation;
  • a requirement that states adopt common core standards, even though many of those standards are lower than California’s existing academic standards.

And here’s the worst part: whether or not California school districts “just say no” to RtTT funding, the CSBA legislative analyst believes the above rules are coming to us anyway, eventually, through the reauthorization of NCLB (now re-titled the more neutral “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” — ESEA).