District ‘Race to the Top’ rules spur mixed reaction

In whole, however, NEA supported expanding the competition to the district level, and strongly supported the requirement that “key stakeholders, such as educators and their representatives,” must sign off on districts’ plans.”

NEA is “sympathetic to the broad concept of advancing personalized learning” that drives the competition, “as long as it is promoted without unnecessary requirements, and with sustained fiscal support, a clear chance of success, and local stakeholder support,” wrote Donna M. Harris-Aikens, NEA’s director of education policy and practice.

NEA took issue with two aspects of the eligibility criteria: (1) the 2,500-student minimum per district would require some small districts to seek out consortia partners, which could create complex data sharing problems, as well as force districts to gloss over their unique challenges and priorities; and (2) the requirement for districts to demonstrate prior commitment to RTT goals tilts the scales in favor of states that already follow RTT.

Like the AFT, the NEA also expressed concern about charter schools’ eligibility for RTT-D grants. NEA suggested several policies that could improve transparency and oversight of charter schools, such as ensuring rigorous review at regular intervals of charter schools, and requiring charters to provide “meaningful measures of academic performance.”

Small districts at a disadvantage

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) praised the expansion of the RTT program to the district level, and the option for districts to apply in consortia, as “a positive step toward making competitive grants more accessible to all schools.”

However, like the teachers’ unions, AASA expressed fundamental disapproval of RTT for “reinforcing the positions of ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’” AASA asserted its belief that federal funds would be better spent through the Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) programs.

AASA also urged an elimination of the 2,500-student enrollment threshold. Because more than two-thirds of the nation’s districts enroll fewer than 2,500 students, such a requirement would establish this as a district consortia, rather than a district-level, competition. Instead, AASA suggested that the competition encourage, but not require, and “enrollment target.”

In response to the draft’s strong focus on creating a personalized learning plan (PLP) for every student, AASA questioned how PLPs will be defined in relation to similar concepts such as “differentiated learning, response to intervention, or individualized learning/instruction.”

“The definition within the criteria is vague and not common in the school/educator community,” wrote the organization.

AASA also sought clarification as to who would be responsible for developing, reviewing, and updating PLPs, and at what interval—as well as to how schools would handle PLPs in tandem with the Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) required by IDEA.

Although AASA expressed strong reservations about the competitive aspect of the RTT program as a whole, it acknowledged the program’s potential to serve as “a catalyst for innovation.”

Because “much of the content within the criteria represent[s] uncharted territory … the success of this round of [RTT funding] will hinge largely on how much the department adopts feedback from the field,” it wrote.

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