Race to the Trough Opposition Builds
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- Subject: Race to the Trough Opposition Builds
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- Date: Tue, 19 Jan 2010 08:50:20 -0500
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EDUCATION GRANT EFFORT FACES LATE OPPOSITION
New York Times -- January 19, 2010
By Sam Dillon
The Obama administration’s main school improvement initiative has
spurred education policy changes in states across the nation, but it is
meeting with some last-minute resistance as the first deadline for
applications arrives Tuesday.
Thousands of school districts in California, Ohio and other states have
declined to participate, and teachers’ unions in Michigan, Minnesota and
Florida have recommended that their local units not sign on to their
states’ applications. Several rural states, including Montana, have said
they will not apply, at least for now, partly because of the emphasis on
charter schools, which would draw resources from small country schools.
And Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said last week that his state would not
compete for the $700 million that the biggest states are eligible to win
in the $4 billion program, known as Race to the Top, calling it an
intrusion on states’ rights.
Still, about 40 states were rushing to complete applications for the
Tuesday deadline, the first in the two-stage competition. The
last-minute opposition is unlikely to derail efforts by most of those
states to win some of the federal money.
President Obama and his aides have been so delighted by the response by
states that he will seek to extend the competition into a third round
next year and will request an additional $1.3 billion from Congress to
do so, senior administration officials said Monday.
Since it got under way last summer, with Secretary of Education Arne
Duncan bluntly criticizing school policies in many states, legislatures
and officials from Rhode Island to California have reworked laws or
policies in ways that have advanced President Obama’s vision: more
charter schools, better-qualified teachers and a national effort to
overhaul failing schools.
Many critics of the administration acknowledge that the competition has
produced important results.
“The administration hasn’t spent a dollar yet, and they’ve already
gotten a lot of states to make important legislative changes that are a
positive for school reform,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, who directed the
Department of Education's research division under President George W.
Bush and is now at the
The administration’s initiatives have produced some of the sharpest
debates since the forced busing controversies of the 1970s. In an
October speech before the National Association of State Boards of
Education, which he devoted to the proper federal role in education,
Secretary Duncan said Washington should not merely provide money to
educate poor children and the disabled, but should shake up schools
coast to coast.
“Some say we’re being too forceful in pushing reform, but I say we need
to be aggressive,” Mr. Duncan said. That posture is provoking
opposition, but most states and districts are going along.
Nevada’s school superintendent, Keith W. Rheault, said in an interview
that some Nevada educators had initially grumbled about the federal
program but had fallen silent as the state’s tax revenues plummeted last
“When you’re starving and somebody puts food in your mouth, it’s amazing
what states will do,” Mr. Rheault said.
Several states last week worked to carry out last-minute legislative
tweaks that could strengthen their proposals. Gov. Pat Quinn of
Illinois, for instance, signed a law overhauling the state’s educator
evaluation system on Friday — just in time for inclusion in the state’s
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers,
announced last week that her union would back development of a new model
for how teachers should be evaluated, promoted and removed.
Timothy Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, which advocates for
improved educator evaluation systems, said: “The big picture is that
Race to the Top has focused the nation on the big questions in public
education in a way that we rarely have been. We haven’t focused much
before on having good evaluations. Now a lot of states are saying,
‘We’re going to do that.’ And that’s huge.”
The last-minute legislative efforts by states seeking to strengthen
their proposals came after a wave of states changed education laws last
year, in response to administration prodding. Lawmakers in Illinois,
Louisiana, Tennessee and elsewhere raised caps on the numbers of charter
schools or expanded the pool of students eligible to attend them.
(Charter schools are publicly financed, but managed by groups separate
from school districts and are largely free from traditional school work
In Indiana, lawmakers beat back an effort to impose a moratorium on new
charters and, after Mr. Duncan warned that states prohibiting the use of
test data in teacher evaluations would be ineligible for awards, revoked
such a prohibition.
In California and Wisconsin, legislators repealed similar laws that had
banned linking student achievement data to teachers; Wisconsin’s action
came one day after Mr. Obama went to Madison to deliver a speech
encouraging legislators to do so.
California also passed two laws, one reworking the state’s educator
evaluation systems and the other allowing parents to move children out
of low-performing districts.
About 40 states have told the Education Department that they will apply
for the grant competition by Tuesday. Officials in seven more — Alaska,
Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, Vermont and Washington — said in
interviews that they would file second-stage applications later this
year. Montana and North Dakota officials said they were still
considering their options.
Florida persuaded more than 60 of its 67 school districts to support its
proposal. In California, 804 of the state’s 1,729 school districts and
charter schools, or less than half, signed on. In Ohio, about 250 of the
state’s 613 school districts agreed to participate. In Colorado, 135 of
178 districts signed on.
Louisiana’s proposal includes plans to intervene in hundreds of failing
schools, Paul Pastorek, the state superintendent of education, said in
an interview. Those ambitious plans alarmed many local school officials,
he said, and only 28 of the state’s 70 districts signed on to support
the state proposal.
“A lot of people and districts were drawn to Race to the Top initially
because of the prospect of money in tough times,” Mr. Pastorek said,
“but we tried to separate those who were just interested in money from
those who want reform.”
Some officials in districts who did not sign on criticized the
competition as micromanagement of their school systems, Mr. Pastorek said.
“They don’t want the state to tell them what to do,” he said, “and they
don’t want the federal government to do it either.”
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