District ‘Race to the Top’ rules spur mixed reaction

Because a single LEA or a consortium of LEAs could span across multiple cities, counties, or even states, requiring an LEA applicant to incorporate the comments of all affected entities “creates an unprecedented and burdensome bureaucratic process for LEAs that undermines the purpose of the grant,” wrote Resnick.

NSBA concluded that the program should “honor local authority” and support local innovation by administering grants directly to LEAs.

Favoring charter schools?

Unlike the NSBA, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) lauded the draft’s requirement for school board and superintendent evaluation as encouraging a culture of “shared responsibility.” AFT also praised the “labor management collaboration” fostered by the competition’s requirement that applicants produce evidence of union engagement and teacher feedback.

Overall, however, AFT disapproved of several key elements of the plan. RTT-D imposes even more requirements on schools that are already struggling to follow existing rules, the group said, and it argued that the competition seems to favor charter schools.

AFT questioned whether districts already struggling to meet Common Core standards and implement new evaluation systems even have the capacity to meet additional requirements.

“It is not clear how layering a personalized learning environment that includes among other things, a personalized learning plan (defined as a formal document) for every student, on top of all of these other requirements will serve students,” wrote Kristor Cowen, legislation director for AFT.

AFT also charged, “While this competition would require districts to do a lot, it neglects to require them to do some basic things that would have a positive impact on student learning.”

As an example, the comments point to the guidelines’ failure to ask districts how they would help teachers overcome barriers to student success.

AFT also raised concerns that the RTT-D application process seems to favor charter schools, particularly virtual schools. The organization said states that have allowed “unfettered expansion” of such schools have experienced “ongoing problems with quality and mismanagement.”

AFT reiterated its fundamental concern with the RTT program: By encouraging schools to compete for money, “the [RTT] brand serves to sort states—and now districts—into winners and losers. The real losers in this program are, of course, the millions of children in districts that will not receive funding, and who will thus miss out on much-needed programs and services.”

The National Education Association (NEA) echoed many of AFT’s concerns, particularly the fundamental reservations about using competitive funding to advance education goals.

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