Education reform: California to join Race to the Top rush
States are scrambling to pass education reforms to be eligible for the Obama administration's $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants. California was set to confirm far-reaching reforms Tuesday.
On Tuesday, California legislators were set to pass a major education reform package that a few months ago would have been unthinkable.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has called a special session of the legislature to consider education reforms, including a controversial measure to link teacher evaluations to student test scores.
And in December, Michigan lawmakers passed a slew of major education laws that will affect charter schools, teacher accountability and evaluations, and merit pay.
The reason for the flurry of activity in these and other states: the $4.35 billion in competitive federal Race to the Top grants. States are scrambling to position themselves before the Jan. 19 application deadline.
“Politicians have so much to worry about that the Race to the Top money, and the need of states for additional money, and the deadline of the application have focused their attention in an extraordinary way,” says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington. “You see state laws being changed throughout the country.”
States' stampede for cash
Other states that are still considering new education laws to make them more competitive in Race to the Top include Wisconsin, New York, Alabama, and Maine. And last year, numerous states changed their laws to be friendlier to charter schools or agreed to link teacher evaluations to test scores.
The Department of Education has made it clear that the grants – which will only be doled out to 10 to 20 states in the first round – will go to those states that are aligned with certain priorities, including an openness to charter schools, a willingness to connect student achievement to teacher performance, a commitment to tough standards, improving data collection, and using effective turnaround approaches for failing schools.
With money scarce, the funds have become highly sought, both for the money and the status they could confer in anointing certain states as education leaders.
“I’ve been doing federal education policy for 17 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that has been tracking states’ efforts. “Usually it’s exactly the opposite: Money gets sent out, and then the federal government tries to compel states to do what they made a commitment to doing.… There’s been more state legislation [around education reform] in the last eight months than there was in the entire seven or eight years of No Child Left Behind, in terms of laws passed.”