Saturday, November 14, 2009

Race to the Top rules becoming clearer: less emphasis on test scores and charter schools

Reacting to suggestions from teacher unions, the U.S. Department of Education has modified the teacher effectiveness requirements in the Race to the Top competition. Instead of centering on test scores, RTTT is asking competitors to include "multiple measures" of teacher effectiveness. Student achievement remains a "significant part" of the evaluation, but can include measurements other than standardized test scores. Education Week's Teacher Beat looks at the teacher requirements here.

Modification of the teacher effectiveness component was enough to get the American Federation of Teachers to give the department kudos for striking "the right balance between what it takes to get systemwide improvement for schools and kids, and how to measure that improvement." AFT's comments on the departments effort are here.

A second major change in the final draft of RTTT rules is a lessened emphasis on charter schools as the main drivers of reform: "While the Department believes that charter schools can be strong partners in school turnaround work, it does not believe that charter schools are the only or preferred solution to turning around struggling schools..."

Still slightly unclear is the role that local school systems will play in the state's ability to win RTTT funds. The Louisiana School Boards Association maintains that local buy-in is necessary for the state to win funding.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek, though, seems to believe that local systems' input will be limited to opting out if they disagree with the program's requirements. As this state department press release puts it, "Districts have the option of whether to participate in the state application, and participating districts are not required to volunteer all of their schools."

State applications for the $4.35 billion fund are due on January 19, 2010. There is a lot of money at stake, and numerous stakeholders who need to be satisfied that the funds will be used to really improve education.

As EdWeek's Teacher Beat puts it, "Fasten your seatbelts... "

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