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No race to the top

By now you’ve probably heard the news that Governor Perry has directed the Texas to not compete for “Race to the Top” stimulus funds.

Gov. Rick Perry said today that Texas will not compete for up to $700 million in federal grant funding for schools.

His decision to snub the Race to the Top grant competition defied pleas from several Houston-area school leaders who said their districts could use the money. But Perry, joined by state Education Commissioner Robert Scott, said the money was not worth the federal mandates.

Texas, Perry said, “reserves the right to decide how we educate our children and not surrender that control to the federal bureaucracy.”

Phillip boils it down:

  1. Texas was eligible for up to $700 million in federal education dollars, if we submitted a “Race to the Top” application
  2. The Texas Education Agency spent between 700-800 hours preparing the application
  3. Perry has refused to send the application, as officials have said the $700 million would be “too little money” — despite the fact that over 200 local school districts have had to raise taxes in order to pay for the structural deficit created by Perry and Dewhurst in 2006
  4. Refusing to send the application nullifies Texas’ ability to compete for other grants

See also State Rep. Garnet Coleman’s letter to Perry about this. The Trib adds on.

State applications are due next week (Jan. 19), and the agency has been preparing the lengthy document for several weeks.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer money that so much time was put into this application,” said Kirsten Gray, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. TEA confirmed that the agency has spent significant time on the application, and Gray says the application has already been put together.

“There’s just absolutely no excusable reason to not allow Texas to compete for this money,” she said.

Others agree.

“Every reason that I’ve heard so far to turn down the money makes no sense,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who chairs the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Education.

Hochberg argues Perry’s decision was not motivated by policy.

“I think it’s all about politics because it makes absolutely no sense to not even apply for a significant amount of money that can be used to help our schools,” he explained.

[…]

Hochberg says the funds could have a significant impact if the state used them the right way.

After all, he said, per year the potential grant money is “roughly the total that we added to school funding in the last biennium that everyone is bragging about.”

It must be noted that the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also opposed the Race to the Top funds. A letter from their Chair Linda Bridges to Perry and others is beneath the fold. Their objections are similar to those of the HFT regarding the teacher evaluation proposal – specifically, they object to things like more standardized tests. Perry’s objection is all about politics and the primary, as just about everything else he does is. He’s predictable, I’ll give him that much.

Dear Commissioner Scott:

Since the issuance on November 11, 2009, of final federal regulations for the Race to the Top grant program, it has become increasingly clear to us at Texas AFT that the state of Texas should not pursue a Race to the Top competitive grant under the conditions prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education for this program. Our reasons for recommending this course of action relate both to issues of substance and to issues of process.

First, the Race to the Top rules for sanctioning schools with low test scores actually would take the state backward. These federal rules would rigidly require removal of the principal and half the faculty at a targeted campus, without discretion. The Texas legislature in 2009 wisely modified a similarly rigid requirement in state law, granting discretion to retain the principal and faculty members, based on evidence of their actual contribution to student learning, rather than impose an automatic sanction regardless of circumstances. It would be a serious policy error for Texas to return to the rigidity encouraged by this federal regulatory requirement.

The Race to the Top regulations also give unwarranted priority to school turnaround measures such as closure of schools and dispersal of their students to other campuses and the handoff of control over struggling schools to private or charter management. Evidence for the efficacy of these preferred policies is thin to nonexistent, yet the Race to the Top regulations would give these measures priority over proven reform strategies that focus on critical factors such as professional development, comprehensive instructional reform, and family and community engagement. The fact that the Race to the Top regulations appear to be intended as a template for the coming revision of the entire federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act makes this concern and others cited below even more significant.

The federal regulations for this grant program also would encourage the state and local school districts to go down another avenue of bad policy relating to use of “value-added” methodologies for high-stakes employment decisions. Under these regulations, states are rewarded for basing individual teacher and principal evaluations on students’ scores on standardized state tests. This feature of the Race to the Top program simply ignores a large body of scholarly research that demonstrates the inability of so-called “value-added” methodologies to attribute student gains on tests to particular teachers with anything like the accuracy needed for high-stakes employment decisions.

A further example of the unwarranted rigidity of the Race to the Top regulations relates to teacher appraisal. Texas has moved away from a rigid requirement of annual teacher appraisal, granting districts the authority to appraise manifestly proficient teachers less often and thereby to avoid a waste of time for both proficient teachers and appraisers. Texas AFT would consider it another significant step backward if school districts were compelled to abandon such sensible policies for the sake of access to Race to the Top grant funds.

In addition to these substantive issues, there is a fundamental procedural problem with the Race to the Top application process as it applies to states like Texas. The Race to the Top regulations are built around the notion that unions representing educators will have significant involvement in the development of the state application and local memoranda of understanding defining the details of proposed state and local use of grant funds. In Texas, however, the mechanisms for such involvement by employee representatives are feeble, except in certain districts that have local policies calling for the democratic election of a representative employee organization to serve as the voice of employees in bilateral policy consultations with school administration. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the level of stakeholder involvement of educators in our school districts in the discussions of a possible state Race to the Top grant application has been virtually nil. Furthermore, again for lack of the appropriate consultative or bargaining context, stakeholder involvement of education employees’ representatives at the state level has been superficial and pro forma.

Frankly, we consider the foregoing issues far more consequential than the much-discussed issue of state participation in a consortium developing common state standards for reading and math, which the Race to the Top regulations would reward with extra points in the competition for grants. We do not believe there is a uniquely Texan version of high standards for math and reading–the two subjects for which the U.S. Department of Education has created an incentive, in points awarded toward grant approval, for states to work together on a common-standards project. In fact, Texas could participate and indeed put forward any and all best Texas practices in the sphere of standards development for consideration by other states, while reserving judgment on whether the final product of this joint endeavor is worthy of state adoption.

But the issues of substance and process identified above remain, and they are more than sufficient to justify a decision by the state of Texas to refrain from taking part in the Race to the Top grant competition. We encourage the state to do just that. The potential Texas grant under Race to the Top rules would at most add a one-time bump equaling less than 2 percent of the state’s current biennial funding for public education. The prospect of such a modest and fleeting contribution to the state budget for public schools cannot justify the adoption of policies that would be detrimental to Texas public education for the long term.

Finally, I would point out that Race to the Top is only one of the many avenues available to pursue the goal of school improvement. Texas AFT and its local affiliates are deeply involved in many of these initiatives, using federal, state, and foundation resources. For example, our affiliates in a number of the largest Texas school districts are working in tandem with their local school officials to provide state-of-the-art skills development for teachers, paraprofessionals, and other educational staffers. Our affiliate in San Antonio ISD, to cite just one other current example, is collaborating with that school district on the development of in-district charter schools with distinctive offerings to keep students in school. This innovative project is actually funded with a grant from our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers. Texas AFT remains ready and willing to partner with the state and local school districts in the pursuit of education reform. And we don’t need Race to the Top grants, with unwise strings attached, to carry on this important work.

Sincerely,

Linda Bridges

Texas AFT President

cc:

Governor Rick Perry

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst

Members of the Texas Senate

Members of the Texas House of Representatives

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3 Comments

  1. Gee Li says:

    Heard this on the radio coming into work as well. There was a lot of hoopla concerning how we’d be giving up states rights to control our education policy for perpetuity, which I find as kind of funny concerning how messed up our SBOE is currently is.

    Anyone have a link with more information regarding the “strings” that come attached with $700 million dollars? I’ve perused through the FAQs but I’ll admit, it does not make for a light read. Link below:

    http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/faq.html

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