Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama announces "Race to the Top" fund

Not everyone is happy with the strings tied to President Barack Obama's nearly $5 billion "Race to the Top" fund , but union leaders like AFT President Randi Weingarten say it's too early to make strong pronouncements.

Many of those opposed to teacher unionism are gloating at the fund's requirement that states allow the use of student achievement data to evaluate teacher performance. Unions like the American Federation of Teachers have traditionally opposed such linkage.

But union opponents could be reading too much into the apparent philosophical divide. After all, the president left no doubt that he sees a vital role for unions in school improvement. He singled out Weingarten's great leadership of a professional union and, when it comes to problems such as turning around low-performing schools, he encouraged local union leaders to work with other stakeholders in "making collective bargaining a catalyst and not an impediment to reform."

Said Weingarten, "President Obama emphasized the importance of working with teachers and their unions to implement successful education reform, saying that collective bargaining can be a catalyst—not an impediment—to reform. He recognizes that this work must be done with teachers, not to teachers."

The Race to the Top fund will provide grants to encourage and reward states for plans in four core education reform areas aimed at improving teacher and principal quality, academic standards, data collection and turning around low-performing schools.

"Will we agree with everything? I doubt it," said Weingarten. "But hopefully we will agree that teacher evaluations must be improved the right way. We need meaningful, fair and multiple measures for supporting and evaluating teachers so that evaluations aren't based on one observation by a principal or one standardized test score."

The AFT president concluded, "Both the president and Secretary Duncan understand that teachers are essential to education reform and that their voices need to be heard as we launch this major offensive to improve public education."

The Associated Press filed this story about the president's announcement of the Race to the Top fund.

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