Federal

School Districts to Be Big Players in Race to the Top Contest

November 12, 2009 2 min read

It’s clear now in the final rules for the Race to the Top grants that states will have to guarantee some big time buy-in from local school districts if they want to snag a slice of the $4 billion prize.

A state’s “success factors,” which include securing commitments from local districts, is worth 125 points of out of a total of 500. That’s second only to teacher and principal effectiveness, worth 138 points. And of those 125 points, 65 are connected to how well a state can guarantee that local districts will carry out whatever reform agenda it proposes.

As Michele McNeil writes in her story today, the support of local school districts is so key that if there’s a tie between states, and not enough money to award both of them, then the strength of the districts’ commitment is the tiebreaker.

So, just how will a state’s school district commitments be judged? According to the rules, states will have to show that districts, through binding agreements, have committed to “implement all or significant portions of the work outlined in the State’s plan.” On those agreements, Race to the Top judges will be looking for signatures of superintendents, school board presidents, and local teachers’ union leaders, as well as “tables that summarize which portions of the State plans [local districts] are committing to implement and how extensive the [local district’s] leadership support is.”

I scoured the rules to find more on this, and, on page 223, found language explaining that once a state wins an RttT grant, its local districts will have three months to detail how they will implement the state’s chosen reforms by completing “specific goals, activities, timelines, budgets, key personnel, and annual targets for key performance measures.”

And if you look on page 768 (yes, I said page 768) of the full lineup of rules, you will find a “model” Memorandum of Understanding that the department would consider to be a strong agreement between states and their local school districts.

Judges will also be looking at not just how many districts have bought in, but how broad an impact they will have on student outcomes, which is probably good news for a state like California where it would be next to impossible to corral agreement from more than 1,000 school districts.

If California can get a few of its massive districts such as Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Sacramento, and Fresno to commit, the potential statewide impact would be broad indeed. Those six districts alone educate roughly 1 million of the state’s 6 million public school children.

But would that be looked on as favorably, say, as a state like Colorado, where more than half of the 178 school districts have already signed letters of intent to indicate that they are on board?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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