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Race to the Top Round Two Concerns

May 19, 2010

CTA has recommended that local chapters not sign the California Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that went out to Local Education Agencies on Monday. It's unfortunate that state policy makers have failed to learn from the mistakes made during Round One and have again come up with a process that excluded stakeholders in its development, that again pressures districts and chapters to sign off without time for discussion or even seeing the final state plan, that takes away local control and accountability, and that has enormous cost implications.

There has been a lack of collaboration once again. The state failed to involve teacher or parent groups in the development of the MOU and state plan.  The state is asking districts and teachers to sign the MOU without even seeing the final state plan and application. This is exactly what happened in Round One. No one considers it good business practice to sign or agree to something you have not read or seen. RTTT stresses the need to involve all stakeholders in developing a comprehensive plan and that simply didn't happen.  Local teachers were not brought to the table in most districts. For example, in San Francisco and Los Angeles, teachers were not involved in any of the discussions. Parents were also ignored. In states that were funded in Round One, state agencies and the teachers unions worked hand-in-hand in developing and writing the MOU and their state plan.

The timelines are rushed and unrealistic. The state MOU was sent out at 8:00 p.m. on Monday. Districts and teachers were supposed to express intent by Wednesday and sign by Friday.  Stakeholders had no time to read or discuss it, and the state appears to not be taking any changes.

Actual program implementation is also rushed and impractical. California will learn at the end of July whether it will receive RTTT funding. Yet according to the MOU, some programs must be in place by September, giving the state and participating school districts one month to get ready.  One example: common core standards are supposed to be implemented by mid-August, but the state still hasn't put together the committee that will do this.

There are enormous ongoing cost implications for local school districts.  If selected, California could receive $700 million in RTTT funding. The state can keep half of that, leaving $350 million in one-time money for local districts to deal with the ongoing costs they'll continue to incur after the RTTT funding is gone. At a time when local school districts are dealing with massive funding cuts, mandating additional ongoing programs and costs is irresponsible. Among those ongoing costs:

  MOU requires districts to hire data coaches to assist in the implementation. This could mean many new positions for some districts. So as districts are laying off teachers, they will now be hiring staff for new, non-classroom positions.

  MOU calls for teacher planning time in all schools, a good idea, but unfortunately with billions in state budget cuts, planning time has been decimated or eliminated in many districts.

  MOU calls for assistance for teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation, yet  California's Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)  program has been eliminated in most districts due to lack of funding.

  Training costs for teachers and principals on how to use the new data system.

  Training for principals on the new teacher evaluation system.

  MOU requires all participating districts to implement at least one additional high school career and technical program.

  Alternative pay models. Without ongoing new revenues, if some teachers are paid more, others will have to be paid less or additional program cuts will need to be made, even though many educators have already taken significant pay cuts. How would districts sustain these plans after the funding runs out? Teachers experienced this back in 2001, when the state rewards program was eliminated due to lack of funding.

  MOU clearly states that the local school district will be required to provide additional funding to implement one of the federal government’s four unproven reform models for schools on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving schools list. According to the MOU, this additional funding will come from the local district and cannot be RTTT funds.

  Creates a new state bureaucracy (The RTTT Board of Directors) to oversee implementation of the plan.  

The RTTT MOU takes away local control and public accountability. The MOU gives unprecedented power to unelected superintendents. It does not require the signatures of either local school boards or teacher unions.  Undermining local school board authority on decisions that have enormous educational and cost implications takes away public accountability for these two key areas.  The plan also mandates many programs and procedures – taking away the authority of local schools to do what best meets the needs of their students. (Note that some school boards may have taken votes in support of RTTT during Round One and those votes could be binding in Round Two.)

CTA also continues to have concerns about the competitive funding nature of RTTT as it creates winners and losers, with the losers being our students. California should be working to achieve adequate funding for all public schools, so every student has an equal opportunity to succeed.

CTA continues to have concerns about the four limited and unproven options for lower-performing schools as research shows the prescribed solutions have limited success. School reform works best when local parents, teachers and administrators work together to best meet the needs of students in their neighborhood schools.

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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