by Jack Minor –
In what some have said is an attempt to assert more local control over local schools, the Obama administration has said individual school districts can now apply for Race to the Top funds if they are willing to subject the school board to government evaluations.
Greeley/Evans District 6 board president Doug Lidiak said while it is a bit premature to decide if they would be interested in applying for the grant, they are willing to look at into it.
“We will certainly research the grant criteria, but we’ll need time to study the potential benefits and costs and requirements.”
The Race to the Top program is part of the 2009 Obama stimulus package. Under the program over $4 billion in funds are available to “encourage and reward” States that meet key goals set by the administration such as adopting standards to prepare students to compete in the global economy and improving high school graduation rates. Last year district 6 improved its graduation rates by lowering the amount of credits needed for graduation.
Another key factor aiding states applying for the funds was their signing on to the Common Core State Standards initiative, which some have said amounts to a nationalizing of the public school system.
The administration has now announced that they will extend the program down to the district level, providing they have serve at least 2,500 students and at least 40 percent of those students qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Approximately $400 million is available and the administration is planning to award 20 grants in amounts of $15 to $25 million each. The applications are due in October and the winners will be announced in December following the presidential election.
Under the criteria to win the funding, districts must have college and career ready standards in place, a “robust data system” and evaluation systems in place by 2014 for not just teachers and principals, but school boards and superintendents as well.
Lidiak said while the idea of subjecting the board to evaluations by the government may upset some, he does not necessarily see the requirement as a deal breaker.
“Having evaluations as part of the grant isn’t an automatic roadblock, we just haven’t had the chance to read through all the details and don’t yet know if this particular evaluation plan is well designed or not.”
However, Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House subcommittee on early childhood, elementary and secondary education says the new grant is another attempt by the Obama administration to assert itself into local decision making.
“The department’s proposal represents an unprecedented expansion of federal intrusion into local education decisions, adding to the boondoggle of bureaucracy already challenging teachers, principals and superintendents,” the California Republican said. “I urge the president stop dedicating more taxpayer dollars to new programs with questionable impact.”
Former board member Brett Reese says while he is opposed to federal control over what should be a local issue; he supports the concept of having the board be evaluated for its performance.
“This board often makes decisions that uphold the status quo and they are afraid to make bold innovative decisions to solve the problems of lower test scores. It would be interesting to see how they would fare on an evaluation of their leadership in resolving educational standards in our schools,” Reese said. “Their idea of improvement is lowering the standards to get better results, look at what they did to get the graduation rate up.”
Multiple veteran teachers in the district who wish to remain anonymous for fear of facing disciplinary action, have told the Gazette that one of the most effective ways to raise student achievement would be for the district to decide specific items they want taught over the course of a semester or a year and then step aside and allow the teachers to use their discretion to decide how and when the material is presented.
They have said the current curriculum is too structured and does not allow them enough flexibility to respond to individual situations that develop in the classrooms.
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