Sunday, August 15, 2010

Unpacking Race to the Top (California Version) – Part 1

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

- Benjamin Franklin


This is the first post in a series called Unpacking Race to the Top. In this series I will unpack the RTTT grant and comment on them. It may surprise some to hear that there are items in RTTT I believe are actually helpful to education. Unfortunately, the rush to grab federal dollars and cede local control to the feds outweighs them.

Race to the Top (RTTT) is a $4.35 billion dollars federal competitive grant authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) – otherwise known as the stimulus package. Its purpose is to encourage and reward states that are implementing certain reforms in the four education areas described in the ARRA.

Enhancing standards and assessments

Improving the collection and use of data

Increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution

And turning around struggling schools

States must apply for the grant. We are currently in the second phase in the selective distribution of this grant. The U.S. Department of Education awarded $100 million and $500 million dollars respectively to Delaware and Tennessee in the first phase of the program. California was not selected in the first phase. It is now a finalist in the second phase. If California is selected as a winner for this grant, it will be awarded $350 - $700 million dollars by September 30, 2010.

California had until June 1st to submit its application for phase 2. [Special note – The Common Core Standards, a required adoption were not finalized and released until June 2nd]. Governor Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Education announced on April 30th that California would participate in the second phase applications. School districts or Local Education Agencies (LEA) had until May 21st to submit a binding no opt out memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement to participate in the state’s application.

The cover letter to the binding no opt out memorandum of understanding agreement stated that to participate the LEA must agree to implement all parts of the state’s plan. [Special note – prevailing legal opinions opined that local school board action was not needed to commit districts to this agreement]. Once signed and submitted, the LEA was committed and could not back out except with permission from the California Department of Education in a mutual agreement or by being “kicked” for non-compliance with the mandates.

302 out of 1729 LEA’s in California signed and submitted the MOU agreement. The majority of them (two-thirds) were charter schools. An education law expert opined that the small (17.5%) turn out to be included in the application is not as much a factor as the inclusion of the huge major school districts, such as Los Angeles, in determining the viability of California’ s RTTT application. The number of students serviced in these huge major school districts is equal to the numbers served in smaller states like Delaware and Tennessee that were awarded the grant in the first phase.

In the next post we will unpack the memorandum of understanding agreement. We will look at the binding no opt out commitments of school districts that signed and submitted the MOU agreement.

Race to the Top FAQ -

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