Saturday, April 10, 2010


Posted to San Francisco Chronicle  By: KALW News (Email) | KALW 91.7 Local Public Radio - A broadcast service of the San Francisco unified school district

April 07 2010 at 03:14 PM -- California has already lost out on the first round of Federal Race to the Top Education dollars, and now because of poor relations with the teachers union and a troublesome data system, state officials may not even try to compete for the second round worth nearly $3.4 billion dollars in education grants.

Earlier this year, California came in 27th out of 41 states that applied for the first round of funding, winning only 354 points out of a total 500 points available.  States were given points based on how much support the state had in applying for the funding.  Delaware and Tennessee won the first round.  Delaware will receive approximately $100 million and Tennessee $500 million to implement their comprehensive school reform plans over the next four years.

When California submitted it's first application, only about half of the local school districts said they would participate and in those districts, only one quarter of the teachers unions signed on.

In evaluating California's application, the reviewers wrote, "The lack of union buy-in at this stage raises serious concerns about the ability of California to implement the Race to the Top reforms," adding that "significant points were deducated for the state's lack of union buy-in."

Race to the Top is President Obama's attempt to infuse federal dollars into schools and districts willing to implement key reforms.  The contest is encouraging states to create more charter schools and tie teacher pay to student performance.  The California Teachers Association reportedly discouraged their local union chapters from signing on to the state's first application in January.

It's not clear now whether teacher's unions in the state would be willing to support California's Race to the Top application for the second round of funding due in June.

Even with the unions support, there's another glitch should the state decide to file an application in June.  The federal government also wants the state to create a data system that would track student performance over time.  So far, California can't provide accurate high school graduation rates because it's new tracking system is having trouble. Federal reviewers wrote, "Given that California is in the beginning stages of developing its longitudinal data system, there is major concern about the State's ability to have the system in place to meet its reform goals within the grant period."

Governor Schwarzenegger and his education advisers are reportedly meeting this week to discuss their strategy for a second application.  Jack O'Connel, California Superintendent of Schools has asked his staff for a recommendation on whether the state should even bother reapplying.

Second-round applications are due June 1.  Whether or not California applies for the second round, legislation that was passed this year in anticipation of the first application will remain in effect.  Those new laws give parents and school administrators the opportunity to change low-performing schools by converting them to charter schools and, if they decide, to fire teachers.  The new laws also allow parents in the 1,000 lowest-performing schools to send their children to better schools in other districts.

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