'Race to the Top' Draws Scrutiny
New program could lay foundation for federal K- 12 policies
AFT LEADERS JOINED frontline educators this summer to make their voices heard on the $4.35 billion federal "Race to the Top" fund, a new program the Obama administration hopes will spur school innovation through competitive state grants.
The union made vigorous use of a 30-day comment window for regulations tied to the new fund, which seeks to provide grants to encourage and reward states for plans in four core education reform areas: improving teacher and principal quality, academic standards, data collection and turning around low-performing schools. Final regulations are expected in October, and they will detail the requirements states must meet to qualify for the grants - the largest federal discretionary outlay for education in history.
A number of issues are covered by the regulations, including the appropriate use of data, the parameters of differentiated compensation and interventions for struggling schools. The U.S. Education Department has listed 19 criteria for judging grant proposals, and these rules could have implications long after the money is spent- many groups believe they will set the foundation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the coming months.
"We are going to use our own four criteria when reviewing the department's plan," says AFT president Randi Weingarten. "They are: Does it help kids? Is it fair and helpful to educators? Is it transparent to educators and the public? And does it require shared responsibility among all stakeholders? If the answer is 'yes' for each, then we have a real chance of improving the quality of teaching and learning, and raising student achievement."
Weingarten, executive vice president Lorretta Johnson, and 10 local and state AFT leaders were among the 125 invited guests at the July 24 announcement of Race to the Top draft guidelines, held at the Education Department in Washington, D. …