S.F., Oakland drop bid for U.S. school funds

Oct 30, 2012 by

Stuck in a standoff with teachers unions, the San Francisco and Oakland school districts have abandoned efforts to bring in up to $15 million each to develop high-quality math classes for upper-elementary and middle school students.

The two districts spent months preparing a joint application for the next round of federal Race to the Top funding – which required districts to incorporate student test scores, among other criteria, in teacher evaluations.

And because of that critical clause, union leaders refused to sign, as required by the federal application.

“Sometimes, publicly, they’ve indicated they’d be willing to talk about test scores,” said Troy Flint, Oakland Unified spokesman. “When we actually sit down and tried to find some sort of compromise, it becomes apparent there is a complete ideological objection to using test scores, even as a small measure in evaluating teachers.”

The two Bay Area cities were among eight large California districts working together to develop applications for the funding.

Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and Long Beach school districts also failed to get the necessary union buy-in.

Sanger and Clovis districts, both in Fresno County, were the only ones expected to submit an application by the initial Tuesday deadline, which was extended to accommodate districts affected by the hurricane and severe weather along the East Coast.

All told, the eight districts qualified for well over $100 million.

Locally, the federal funding would have paid for laptops, high-speed Internet upgrades, new data and software systems to offer teachers instant feedback on student progress, and teacher training on more individualized instruction methods.

Missed opportunity

“The union has not chosen to engage about issues important to kids,” said Phil Halperin, senior partner with the nonprofit California Education Partners, which financially supported the districts’ application efforts. “We’re baffled and disappointed they wouldn’t come to the table with an open mind. It’s a huge missed opportunity.”

Union officials, however, said they felt bullied into signing on to top-down mandates because of the money.

“You only get this money if you agree to these reforms,” said Steve Neat, Oakland Education Association first vice president. “For our students to get technology, which would help their education, why does the district have to agree to tie test scores to teacher evaluations?”

In San Francisco, district officials said there was enough wiggle room to create a compromise: an evaluation system that blends multiple measures to evaluate and ultimately support teachers.

“The board absolutely does not support using test scores as a means to punish teachers,” said Rachel Norton, school board vice president. “What I do support is using test scores in a sensible way to improve student learning.”

$4 billion in grants

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top in 2009 offered more than $4 billion in grants to improve education across the country. There were two rounds of state funding, followed by smaller grants, including the current round to be awarded at a district level.

The federal reform effort has emphasized improving teacher and principal performance, specifically through enhanced evaluations that include student growth on standardized tests as well as classroom observations and other measures.

S.F., Oakland drop bid for U.S. school funds – SFGate.

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