Wednesday, July 28, 2010


The state, which lost out on its first try for Race to the Top grants, is a finalist in its second effort. Winners will share $3.4 billion in federal educational funding.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

July 28, 2010 -- California, which lost out on the first round of controversial federal Race to the Top education grants, emerged as a finalist in its second try, officials announced Tuesday.

"Today's development means we are still in the hunt," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

The finalists are the District of Columbia and 18 states, including New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii. Winners will share $3.4 billion in funding and will be announced in September.

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The Obama administration created the competitive grant program to spur its vision of reform nationwide.

"We really unleashed this huge amount of innovation and courage around the country," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He predicted that the reform momentum would continue regardless of who wins the federal dollars.

To ensure that more students have effective teachers, the administration has touted evaluating teachers in part by their students' performance on standardized tests. Many union leaders and rank-and-file teachers oppose that idea.

"Instead of fostering students to become independent thinkers, teachers will have to teach to the tests, which narrows the curriculum and defeats the purpose of public education," said Charles Olynyk, a history teacher at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights.

Critics also have argued that some states, including California, became obsessed with winning badly needed funding at the expense of adopting long-term policies that could prove prohibitively expensive and academically detrimental.

Still, the American Federation of Teachers praised the inclusion of states that worked with union leaders on their proposals, while criticizing the selection of the District of Columbia. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor there, has used her new evaluation system to fire hundreds of teachers.

The Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which favors both charter schools and publicly funded vouchers for private schools, criticized Duncan for including too many "status quo" states, which, it said, included Kentucky and Maryland.

If California prevails, the state could receive up to $700 million in one-time funds; a substantial portion would go to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

California's plan focuses on strategies favored by the Obama administration, including teacher evaluations, placing the most effective educators in struggling schools and improving instruction through the improved use of data.

The state blueprint also embraces the federal emphasis on replacing staff at poorly performing schools and converting some to independently run charter schools, most of which are non-union.

Most of the state's teachers unions have declined to sign on, which will cost the state some points when evaluators review California's application.

The office of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a frequent union foe, said Monday that the lack of union buy-in has been overstated. Teachers union leaders in L.A., for example, "haven't rejected" the reform package, said Kathryn Gaither, California's education undersecretary. "They said, 'We'll talk.' "

Critics of Race to the Top also raised concerns about the ongoing costs of measures begun with one-time funds.

But L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said the dollars would underwrite badly needed efforts, some already underway. He'd like to further develop quality math and science instruction, among other initiatives.

The state amended its first failed proposal by working bottom-up, recruiting a handful of school systems to write a more specific, aggressive plan that other school districts could choose to join. The consortium of seven districts includes those serving L.A., Long Beach, San Francisco, Fresno and Sacramento. Overall 123 school systems approved the framework along with dozens of charter schools.

These districts enroll 1.7 million California students, 68% of whom live in poverty, officials said.

A five-person team, including Cortines, will make California's pitch on Aug. 9 in Washington.

State passes test for 'Race to the Top' funds

Editorial in San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, July 28, 20100, 4:00 AM -  The California Legislature struggled mightily last year to pass important educational reforms. The battles exposed the difficulties - and the political cost - of overcoming the institutional resistance that has contributed to California's poor national performance in education.

On Tuesday, reformers got an important boost: California is a finalist for the second round of federal "Race to the Top" funding. As a result of those difficult battles, California now has a chance to win as much as $700 million to improve struggling schools and close our achievement gap.

Part of the victory has to do with how California has already improved its thinking on education reform. It was disappointing when California didn't even win a finalist position in the first round of Race to the Top funding. It also reflected the fact that there had been a lack of consensus within the educational community around this state's application.

California's second-round application used a more collaborative approach, working with a group of school districts and superintendents who are interested in reform. No doubt that's one of the things that improved its odds. State Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he hopes to see even more districts agree to adopt the reforms. We do too.

The Race to the Top money won't solve all of California's problems. When asked how much the additional funding would plug the state's massive educational budget deficit, O'Connell said, "Zero. We're operating on $17 billion less than we'd anticipated two years ago." However, O'Connell added, $700 million "potentially will help us implement these reforms. And we need to move forward with these reforms regardless of the budget."

He's right - California students can't afford to wait for a good education.

In fact, it shouldn't even matter whether California wins the Race to the Top competition. Improving data systems to track individual student performance, using multiple measures to identify effective teachers and refining state assessment procedures are all reforms we have needed to complete for a long time.

State pursues Race to the Top funding

from The Sacramento Bee

Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 - 1:32 am  -- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that California is one of 19 state finalists for more than $3 billion in federal Race to the Top funding.

If selected as a winner, California could receive $700 million in funding, according to the California Department of Education.

Locally, that could mean Livingston Union Elementary, Merced City Elementary and the Merced Union High School may benefit because they were the only local districts to sign on.

Statewide, there were 302 other educational agencies that applied.

A total of 35 states sent in applications detailing how they plan to implement various school reforms to get the funding.

Duncan announced the finalists Tuesday at the end of his speech at the National Press Club.

The government has $4.35 billion available to support states in their reforms. The Department of Education is reserving $350 million for a separate competition to support consortia of states that are creating the next generation of assessments that will support reform, federal officials said.

In the first round of distributing funds to states, Delaware and Tennessee were the big winners.

Almost $3.4 billion remains to award grants to winners in the second round.

The finalists will travel to the District of Columbia in early August to present their plans to the peer reviewers who scored their applications, according to the U.S. Department of Education. After the state's presentations and an extended question-and-answer period, the peer reviewers will finish their scores and comments.

Winners will be announced by the federal Department of Education in September.

In other state education news, O'Connell received notice that California will be awarded a major federal Charter Schools Program grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement.

California applied for $300 million in federal Charter School startup grant funds, according to the CDE. The U.S. Department of Education hasn't announced how much money the state will get.

In final heat for Race to the Top

By John Fensterwald | The Educated Guess

July 28th, 2010 - Switching from a big-tent strategy, with a lot of districts committing to little, to a pup-tent strategy, with a few districts pledging to do a lot, has paid off so far for California in Race to the Top.

The state learned on Tuesday that, having improved its score by at least 20 percent, it will   join 17 other states and the District of Columbia as finalists in the competition for $3.4 billion in the federal education money. Thirty-five states had applied in the second round.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wouldn’t rank the states or give their scores, other than to say that 400 points out of a possible 500 was the cutoff for finalists. California’s gain of at least 63 points, from 337, was nearly triple the average  state increase of 23 points  from the first to the second round.

Between 10 and 15 states are expected to be awarded money, so, depending on where California is in the standings, California could come  away with all or some of the $700 million it is seeking. On the week of Aug. 9, a team of five, yet to be announced, will go to Washington to pitch the state’s case. Winners will be named in September. Only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded money in the first round. But 13 first-round finalists are also finalists in the second round.

In the first round, for all the good that it did, the state was able to rustle up the support of 745 school districts, county offices of education and charter schools, who signed vague pledges to come up with reforms once the state got the money. California came  in 27th out of 40.

This time, seven superintendents with a record of reforms – from Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Clovis, Sanger and, perhaps most important, Los Angeles  ­– led a bottom-up process. They came up with a more specific proposal with commitments to make significant changes in how teachers and principals are trained, placed, evaluated and paid, how student data and technology will be used,  and how students will be made ready for college and careers. By the end, 300 districts and charter schools had signed MOUs. They comprise 1.7 million children – less than a third of the state’s K-23 students – but 68 percent of those students come from low-income households.

California’s district-centric approach may be distinct among the applications, and must have intrigued the panel of five reviewers.

But California has a lot of liabilities that judges will be hard-pressed to overlook. Its data system is kludgy; teachers unions refused to sign MOUs pledging support; the state is being sued over seniority-based layoffs and inadequate school funding; its plans for performance pay and new evaluations still have to be negotiated in each district. Other finalists have worked through these problems, particularly at a state level.

But Long Beach Unified Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser said that because of the political stalemates in  Sacramento,  the  Race to the Top districts can make the case that they offer a credible alternative and model for California. The seven lead districts are working together on personnel and data questions. Long Beach has a data system that can track students through community college and Long Beach State. Each district can decide, with its unions, whether bonus pay will go to individuals or to schools that meet goals.

In its application, the districts commit to taking strong actions that should have an effect on erasing the achievement gap. They pledge:

  • By school year 2013-14, underperforming schools with high poverty rates  will have teacher retention rates equal to or greater than the other schools within their distirct.
  • By a year from August, districts will create a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, with at least 30 percent of the evaluation based on student growth (not necessarily standardized test scores alone);
  • By 2013-14, all principals will be evaluated using the new system, and tenure and promotion decisions will be made based on evaluation ratings; five alternative pay plans, based on teacher effectiveness, will be piloted.

Steinhauser said that even if California doesn’t get any money in this round, the seven districts have agreed to continue working together on reforms in the application.

California Department of Education News Release

Release: #10-84
July 27. 2010

Contact: Tina Jung
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Issues Statement on California's Selection as a Finalist in Phase 2 of the Federal Race To The Top Competition

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today issued the following statement after California was selected as a finalist in the competition to receive up to $700 million for education reform efforts as part of Phase 2 of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competition.

"I am thrilled that our efforts to push for even more progress in improving public education were recognized by the U.S. Department of Education," O'Connell said. "California remains in the running for the Race to the Top competition. We now will prepare to present our reform plan before reviewers in Washington. I remain optimistic that California will be granted funding that will help us ensure that we have effective teachers in every classroom, strong leaders in every school, common core standards to improve instruction, and an effective data system to ensure that every student is being prepared for success in college or careers."

California's Phase 2 RTTT application was built around the strong commitment and leadership of seven superintendents representing a diverse group of school districts: Clovis, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Sanger, and San Francisco unified school districts. These seven superintendents were the primary architects of California's RTTT Phase 2 plan to transform the state's education system and strengthen California's ability to prepare all students for success in college and careers. These districts were joined by more than 300 additional local educational agencies (LEAs) that pledged their commitment to implement California's Phase 2 RTTT plan by signing binding Memorandums of Understanding.

The participating LEAs represent more than 1.7 million California students, a student population that is larger than the total kindergarten through twelfth grade enrollment of all but six other U.S. states. These LEAs also serve some of the neediest students in the state, as 68 percent of the students in participating districts live in poverty.

California's RTTT Phase 2 application is rooted in four key areas of reform that call for:

  • Refining California's rigorous state standards by adopting internationally benchmarked common core standards and aligned assessments that better prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers and principals and ensuring that they are helping students that need them the most;
  • Expanding our education data system to better measure student success in college and the workforce; and
  • Dramatically improving the state's persistently lowest-performing schools.

California's Phase 2 RTTT application also emphasizes the critical goal of advancing the state's students' understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With funding from the federal government, the state plans to launch new partnerships with institutions of higher education, and strengthen and expand the delivery of STEM in California's high schools. The plan also includes an emphasis on building a strong STEM foundation in the kindergarten through eighth grade system, an expansion of support systems, and infrastructure for the future of STEM.

Finalists of the Phase 2 grants will present their plans before a review panel in Washington, D.C. on August 9, 2010. Finalists are expected to be announced in September.

Information on California's RTTT Phase 2 application may be found at Race to the Top [] (Outside Source).

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