U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s decision to back Delaware officials who planned to withhold $11 million from the Christina school district for reneging on school turnaround plans serves as a warning to other districts that might want to backtrack on their Race to the Top promises.
Mr. Duncan’s scolding and the resulting public pressure late last month were apparently enough to persuade the Christina school board to change course, again, and reaffirm its commitment to carry out the state’s reform plans.
The well-publicized squabble unfolded over a matter of days late last month in Delaware, a Race to the Top darling that was one of two winners in the first round of the $4 billion federal competition. Mr. Duncan at the time heaped generous amounts of praise on the state for its widespread buy-in from teachers, public officials, and community leaders.
Districts have backed out of Race to the Top before, but in Christina’s case, Delaware’s largest district wanted to change its plans for improving two low-performing schools—and not move some teachers out as originally promised as part of the Race to the Top-funded turnaround plan. But the district still wanted to keep the money.
Delaware schools’ chief Lillian M. Lowery put the responsibility for disagreement squarely on the district, but Christina school board president John Young, in an April 23 opinion piece in the Delaware News-Journal, said the dollars were creating more “chaos” than good. (Districts volunteer to participate in Race to the Top.)
Two days later, Mr. Duncan issued his statement, marking the first time he’s taken sides as 11 states plus the District of Columbia work to implement their awards.
“Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding,” Mr. Duncan said. “I hope that the Christina school board will reconsider its decision.”
On April 30, the board did, indeed, reconsider. After a unanimous vote to go back to the original plans, Christina Superintendent Marcia Lyles said in a statement, We look forward to continuing the work we have started.
A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2011 edition of Education Week as Wavering District Back on RTT Track