The Race is On
Official Race to the Top guidelines show Education Department listened to educators' concerns
By Kevin Hart
The U.S. Department of Education today released the official application for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competitive grants program, which reflects significant, important changes from the draft guidelines released in July.
The Race to the Top fund includes $350 million to help states create better assessments, and $4 billion that will be allocated on a competitive basis to help states fund innovation. The draft guidelines released this summer were controversial because of requirements that teacher evaluations be linked to student test scores and that states have no laws restricting the growth of charter schools.
NEA and other groups expressed concerns that test scores were an overly narrow means for assessing teacher performance, particularly since many subject areas have no standardized testing. NEA also thought the guidelines relied too heavily on charter schools, which have a history of mixed results.
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the final guidelines for Race to the Top show that the Education Department listened closely to NEA and other education stakeholders -- a total of 1,161 comments were submitted. For example, the final guidelines clarify that standardized testing should be just one of several measures used to evaluate the performance of teachers and principals, and that evaluation systems should be developed with input from educators.
The guidelines also now allow states to demonstrate that they have autonomous public schools separate from the charter school model.
“We are pleased that Race to the Top embraces the spirit of collaboration among education stakeholders needed to achieve systemic and sustainable reform efforts," Van Roekel said. "In reading the final application, it is obvious that the Obama Administration listened to educators, and we applaud them for recognizing the role teachers play in transforming education and preparing students by requiring states to involve teachers and principals in designing and implementing evaluation systems. This is necessary to make sure that what happens in Washington works in schools and communities across America."
Race to the Top still includes a requirement that states must not have any barriers to linking student achievement, such as test scores, to evaluations for teachers and principals, and Van Roekel said that requirement "misses the mark." But Van Roekel said NEA remained committed to working with the Obama Administration and Education Department to ensure that states understood that several measures should be used for evaluation purposes.
“Educators are willing to accept responsibility for student learning and for being evaluated based on criteria they help develop, and we look forward to working with the Administration to ensure that its goal of true multiple measures in teacher evaluation systems is realized,” he said.
Race to the Top funds will be administered in two rounds of competition. The first round of applications from states will be due by mid-January, 2010, with results announced in the spring. Applications for the second round will be due June 1, 2010, with the announcement of all the winners by September 30, 2010.