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NEA Urges Course Correction Before "Race To The Top" Extension

By Alain Jehlen

The National Education Association is calling for changes in the “Race to the Top” (RTTT) as President Obama announces he will continue the program for an extra year.

The program was originally allotted $4 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the current fiscal year. Speaking Tuesday at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, Obama announced RTTT will have a $1.35 billion second year.

The President made his announcement on the same day as the deadline for the first round of applications in this year's RTTT competition. States are not guaranteed a share of the money, but are vying to meet federal Education Department guidelines to win their funding.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said RTTT needs improvement before it is extended. NEA has proposed changes that would involve educators and others in planning the reforms they will need to carry out.

“The National Education Association shares the Obama administration’s goal of fostering innovation and reform to close the gaps in achievement and opportunity in our nation’s schools,” Van Roekel said. He noted that NEA’s 3.2 million members are spearheading many successful programs to turn around struggling schools.

“As the Administration has recognized, educators are key partners in every successful education reform effort,” Van Roekel said. “The importance of collaboration must be emphasized in Race to the Top discussions and applications if the Federal money is to be used efficiently and effectively.

“While NEA supports the overarching goals of Race to the Top and its inclusion in the federal budget, we have serious concerns about how the first phase of Race to the Top was conducted. Before any expansion of the program, we urge the Administration to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Phase 1 with input from national, state and local stakeholders.

NEA has noted that some state departments of education were unwilling or unable to share final drafts of their applications with educators and community partners.

NEA urges more clarity as to the impact of Race to the Top on state and local laws, policies, and agreements affecting school personnel. Educators are willing to change contracts and agreements if the changes will help children learn better, but it must be clear how proposed changes will affect them. 

NEA also calls for long-term funding for RTTT programs so that improvements can be sustained.