race to the top

Rita Hibbard's picture

Schools are failing - and kids are counting on us to get it right

If a school is failing, how do you fix it? Can you fix it without admitting anything is wrong with the teaching? How about the leadership? The district administration? The parents or the students? Whose fault is it anyway?

Schools on a list of the state’s lowest performing schools are in line to get some big federal dollars. President Obama this week announced he has $900 million in new federal grants available to school districts willing to take aggressive steps to fix their struggling institutions, or close them. That $900 million is on top of $4 billion in federal grants in the “Race to the Top” fund aimed at improving education nationwide. That program will make about $50 million available to Washington schools judged to be among the lowest 5 percent in student achievement.

Obama said the new federal aid would be available to the districts that are home to the 2,000 schools that produce more than half of the nation’s dropouts.

But the fix has to include some big admissions of failure – the school districts must agree to take at least one of these steps: firing the principal and at least half the staff of a troubled school; reopening it as a charter school, which is not legal under Washington law; or closing the school  and transferring students to higher performing schools in the district. 

According to a story in the Seattle Times, the Tacoma Schools superintendent is proposing to close one middle school, replace the principals and at least half the staff at two others, and transform the fourth.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Tying student scores to teacher ratings in Oregon and Idaho, while WA takes a go-slow approach

The state of Oregon is putting it on the line, taking the controversial step -- with the backing of its teachers unions - to connect student test scores to teacher ratings and using them to judge effectiveness.

rita_hibbardweb"Schools will be expected to use those results to improve teaching practices and could use them to help decide which teachers they should promote, give bonuses or let go,” reports Betsy Hammond of The Oregonian. Oregon will take this step in its application to win $200 million of the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top fund – deadline Tuesday. About 43 states, including Idaho, are expected to apply in this first round of competitive funding, and Oregon is one of only 28 with teacher union backing.

Meanwhile, Washington state is proceeding more tentatively. Gov. Christine Gregoire has announced the state will apply for round two of the funding – deadline June. Superintendent of Schools Randy Dorn agrees with the go-slow approach.

“Race to the Top money will help change the way we do education and make our schools better for our students,” Dorn said. “But we need time to make sure local districts can participate in the process. Waiting for the second round of applications gives us that time.”

Like Oregon, Idaho schools also will seek the federal funding in the first round – about $75 million for a pilot program to pay teachers based on performance in several areas, including student test scores.