Tag Archives: rttt

Stirring up acronym soup: SIG v. RTTT

I just got a consoling email from a parent who learned that California was not, after all, selected to receive a grant in the second round of Race to the Top (RTTT). This is disappointing, but applying felt a little bit like doing a deal with the devil so I’m not really all that upset that we didn’t qualify.

But it’s important to know the difference between RTTT, the Federal government’s competitive grants program, and the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program that the State Board of Education is expected to approve today.

Our eligibility for SIG is related to the state’s list of persistently underperforming schools. Districts with schools on the list were invited to apply for SIG funds, and required to choose one of four turnaround strategies for every school on the list. Some districts (LAUSD, OUSD) gambled and applied for money for only some of their schools; SFUSD chose to apply for all 10 and were rewarded with a recommendation that the state fund our application to the tune of $47 million. After some scrambling (and advocacy by other districts that were shut out), the state board cut our funding recommendation back to $45 million and applied for a Federal waiver that will let them fund other school districts that were originally shut out.

We’re okay with that, generally, and that money will make a huge difference at schools like John Muir Elementary, Carver Elementary, Everett Middle School, and Horace Mann Middle School. We should receive confirmation later today about the money.


Going for Round II of RTTT: an update

Have you been following the state’s plan to apply for Round II of Race to the Top funding? It’s been quiet lately, but lots of work has been going on behind the scenes.  Six districts — Fresno Unified, LAUSD, Sacramento City, Sanger Unified, Clovis Unified and of course SFUSD — have been working together to craft a different approach for California to take this time (after a dismal showing in Round I).

I have to admit that I briefly lost sight of the process, and I did a double-take when I read this and this — accounts of what districts participating in Round 2 of Race to the Top are agreeing to, based on the final version of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was released on Tuesday. According to John Fensterwald:

This time, there will be no coaxing or convincing, with a wink or a nod, that districts can always back out later if they don’t like the terms. This time, the state’s not going all out to build a big tent of participants at the sacrifice of strong commitments. This time, superintendents, local union presidents and presidents of the boards of trustees should sign the dotted line only if they’re  prepared to agree to a specific and lengthy set of reforms.

He’s not alone. Even the state’s FAQ for school districts considering participation in Round 2 says:

Unlike Round 1, California will not be allowing opt-outs for Round 2. There are two reasons: 1) there is significant point loss if signers are not committed and have the ability to back out; 2) in the interest of time, we have to have a full commitment to move forward. We are hoping we will get more than the six superintendents, but these six have made the commitment and if that’s all that sign on we will still have the representation of over 1 million students; more than the two states that won Round 1.

The timeline is very short: at a special meeting tomorrow, the Board will be asked to formally adopt the MOU — a signed version is due back in Sacramento by Friday. I’m still absorbing everything that is in the document, but I’ve already noted some elements that need more discussion — like basing 30 percent of every teacher and principal evaluation on growth in student achievement (as measured by CST scores?) The stakes are very high here, and yet all of this is feeling to me like a bit of a rush job.

Well, THIS is awkward . . .

After Thursday’s rant comparing Arne Duncan to the smooth talker who stood California up on our last date, it looks like we’re going to forgive him and try again.  The best part is that Superintendent Garcia is apparently on the committee that will be writing the state’s application. Does that mean there’s something in it for SFUSD if the application is successful? I have no idea.  

Anyway, Carlos’ participation on the committee doesn’t change the way I feel about this whole competition — that it is ill-conceived and may in fact be harmful to our schools in the long run.

Will Arne Duncan take California to the prom?

Is it just me, or is the on-again, off-again California-Arne Duncan romance just like a John Hughes movie? Duncan is like the cute popular guy who stood us up on our last date, coming around again all contrite and promising to make it up to us by taking us to the prom with a limo and everything.  Can we trust him? How will it end for sweet, impoverished California? Will his snobby friends accept us?

What I mean is this: there’s a lot of speculation out there that California might enter Round II of Race to the Top after all, but take things in a very different direction after our dismal showing in Round I of the national competition for education dollars. The state was reportedly just days away from dropping out of the race entirely, but after some heavy lobbying from Federal officials — Education Secretary Duncan reportedly made a personal call to Governor Schwarzenegger over the weekend, urging that the state resubmit its application — the state has come up with a new idea. John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation reports:

Instead of revising the state plan and then pitching it again to every district and union local, California would limit its application to a handful of forward-thinking urban districts with predominately minority, low-income students: Long Beach, Fresno, Los Angeles Unified, and perhaps a few others willing to commit to stronger reforms than in the first round.

The state would make the case that the three to six participating districts, with upward of 850,000 students, are still larger than most states, and would set an example for other California districts.

Maybe, but it’s still a long shot. We didn’t even come close the last time around, largely due to the lack of union support. I don’t see that changing if the competition continues to demand things like setting aside seniority provisions and using test scores to evaluate teachers.  The speculation is that Duncan is wooing California because he’s worried too many states will withdraw from the competition, endangering Congress’ support for the President’s overall educational agenda.

That seems to sum up the administration’s game (and our plot) pretty clearly: woo high-profile California with cash and encouragement, demand wide-ranging (and highly questionable) reforms, then drive off into the sunset with states that started with more per-student funding in the first place (AKA the well-endowed head cheerleader). I’d love to cast Duncan as the cute, smart bystander who sees our potential and gets the last dance, but it’s really not looking like that’s the part we can trust him to play.