RttT: Terminate This Law!

September 3, 2009 | Blog

A new Education Week story (‘California Actions on ‘Race to the Top’ Scrutinized’) by Alyson Klein reports on efforts underway in California and New York to make statutory changes that would theoretically strengthen those states’ chances for Race to the Top competitive funding. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is leading the charge in the Golden State to overhaul a law that restricts linking student assessment data with individual teacher performance.

The Republican governor last month directed the Democratic-controlled California legislature to consider enacting a package of education redesign measures—including scrapping a law blocking the state from linking student and teacher data—in hopes of improving the state’s competitive posture.

“Our laws that we have in place here in our state do not really kind of match up with what the Obama administration is looking for,” he said last month. “We are going to put together in legislation all of the things that the Obama administration is actually calling for. These are all policies that are great, actually, for the state of California and that are great for our kids.”

In addition to seeking a change in the way the state uses data to measure student, teacher, and school performance, Mr. Schwarzenegger asked lawmakers to repeal California’s charter school cap, expand public school choice, step up turnaround efforts for struggling schools, and enact alternative-pay plans for educators.

And the governor wants lawmakers to pass those measures by early October, so that California could be eligible for the first of two rounds of Race to the Top grant funding, which is slated to go out in March.

But even if states like California (and New York, Nevada, and Wisconsin with similar student-teacher data ‘firewall’ restrictions) make such statutory changes, there is no guarantee of winning Race to the Top funds. Much of that end game will come down to the competitiveness of these states’ applications vis a vis other states as well as the scoring rubric (expected in November) that will be used by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to evaluate applications.

As I said in this recent post, “until the ED makes clear how it is going to balance the two primary [RttT] selection criteria — Reform Conditions and Reform Plan … states that may not be as strong in having created these conditions for education reform can only hope that the ED weighs proposed Reform Plan strategies equally to or more heavily than the Reform Conditions criteria.” If ED chooses to steer the money primarily to states that have a proven track record of education policy reform and the results to back it up, then middling and poorly prepared states cannot hope that a stellar application and last-minute statutory and regulatory changes will bail them out from having been reform laggards in recent years.

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