District-Level Race to the Top: School Districts Beholden to the Feds





arne-duncan-obamaI blogged at Truth in American Education late last month about the latest *brilliant* idea to come from the Arne and Obama show – District-Level Race to the Top.  Instead of giving money to the states the U.S. Department of Education wants to give it directly to school districts.  So they are just bypassing the states and making school districts beholden to them.

Wonderful, right?  I wrote:

The DOE is encouraging districts within states to craft reform plans that incorporate the “four cornerstones” of improving teacher quality, school turnaround plans, student data collection, and standards and assessments.

Plans must have the signatures of the district superintendent, school board officials, and local union presidents (if there are any).  Ignoring federalism, state education chiefs have no power to veto the plans and are given just five days to comment on them.

Jane Robbins (who has written guest posts here before) provided a primer at Truth in American Education this morning that helps to give us a better understanding of Race to the Top IV: District-Level Race to the Top.  She wrote:

  • Announced by the US Department of Education (USDOE) on May 22, 2012, this program is designed to bypass states and go directly to local districts to persuade them to accept strings-attached federal grants. In this way, USDOE can undermine sovereign state decisions with which it disagrees.

  • The competition consists of a $400 million fund that will lure applications from eligible districts or groups of districts (defined as those serving at least 2,500 students, 40% or more of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch).

  • Districts will be expected to “create plans for individualized classroom instruction aimed at closing achievement gaps and preparing each student for college and career.”

  • “Eligibility . . . will be determined by a district’s demonstrated commitment to RTT’s four core reform areas.” These core areas include adopting standards acceptable to USDOE and building massive student-data systems.

  • Among the 17 categories of vague promises the competing districts must make is the requirement that they show they can track students from pre-K through college, and tie student outcomes back to individual teachers.

  • One of the more bizarre requirements is that competing districts promise to implement evaluation systems that consider student outcomes – not just for teacher and principal performance, but also for district superintendents and school boards. Is USDOE suggesting it can fire school boards if it deems them inadequate? Where does Arne Duncan get the authority to tell individual districts how to do their job?

  • The competition “offers competitive preference to applicants that form partnerships with public and private organizations to . . . offer services that help meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs . . . .” So local schools will have to answer to School Superintendent Duncan for whether students are well-adjusted socially and emotionally.

  • This district-level program is a full-scale assault on state sovereignty. It is a power-grab through which the federal government will skirt citizens’ elected statewide bodies and negotiate directly with school districts to embrace federal policy. It will also undermine the state governmental structure by grouping school districts together on policy decisions and thereby making it more difficult for the group do disengage from federal programming.

The brief public comment period ends tomorrow which you can do here.

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