By Mike Myslinski
CTA Board Member Michael Stone speaks on Race to the Top.
When hidden threats to public education, the teaching profession and our students contained in the federal "Race to the Top" education grant program surfaced this summer, CTA staff and members mobilized to show the impact to schools and to slow down the rush to overhaul education policy to qualify to apply for the one-time grants.
California's voices were heard in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C., as the U.S. Department of Education has delayed the timeline for adopting final guidelines. The department was overwhelmed by the number of responses and needs more time for review. Teachers statewide continued to mobilize on this vital issue, while some testified at various legislative hearings.
In a speech to 300 educators at the CTA Region 1 Leadership Conference on Oct. 2 in Santa Clara, CTA President David A. Sanchez noted that he has met with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a few times now to voice teachers' concerns.
"CTA has been successful at getting the Legislature to slow down and engage in serious conversation before making sweeping changes to our education policies," Sanchez said. "The whole rushed process was slowed only after CTA launched an aggressive advocacy and public information campaign about the consequences of Race to the Top. CTA leaders recently met with Secretary Duncan a number of times and are working closely with NEA on a national level."
A deluge of responses to the draft guidelines by California, NEA and other states put the brakes on the process. Making states eligible for the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants requires they meet criteria that could hurt students, schools and the teaching profession. California would be required to overhaul academic content standards that took seven years — and about $6 billion to draft and enact — to qualify for up to $500 million in federal funding. The state would have to create a new testing system, mandate that teacher evaluations be based "significantly" on student test scores, limit options to help our lower-performing schools, and allow unlimited expansion of charter schools.
Hearings held around the state as part of the governor's special session on RTTT included testimony by Camille Zombro, president of the San Diego Education Association.
Zombro and CTA Board member Jim Groth, a teacher in Chula Vista, authored a column published in the Sept. 18 San Diego Union-Tribune that lamented how this federal program bore the same one-size-fits-all flaws of No Child Left Behind, the failed reform effort of President George W. Bush.
Zombro and Groth wrote, "Unfortunately, when educators tell our stories, explain our challenges, and reveal the real damage done by unproven reforms, we're dismissed as roadblocks. Far from it — we are crying for Californians to join us in standing up for our schools and students. Education professionals take great pride in the work we do to build the future for San Diego's children. We understand that a child's education is a journey, not a race. In races there are winners and losers. We cannot afford to lose any of our children in the pursuit of providing a quality education for every child."
CTA believes it is important to continue working with the administration and to ensure that the voices of educators are heard. There must be multiple options for evaluating students and teachers, and there must be flexibility for states and local school districts.