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L.A. Unified and five other districts will vie with state for federal reform grant

April 30, 2010 |  7:00 pm

Six school districts will work with the state to craft another try at winning a high-profile federal school-reform grant, officials announced Friday. The names of the three largest districts, including L.A. Unified, had been disclosed in an article this week in The Times. Long Beach Unified and Fresno Unified also were taking part.

But officials revealed Friday that three other districts wanted to be involved as well: San Francisco Unified and two Fresno-area districts: Clovis Unified and Sanger Unified.

California fell short during the first round of competition for a share of the $4.35-billion Race to the Top grants, and the state was a day or two away from giving up on reapplying for the second round. Officials had nearly concluded that the effort was hopeless.

But U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to give up. And the state developed a new strategy: A few districts would pursue reforms more specific and more aggressive than in the original state submission.

The approach is a calculated gamble because federal evaluators rewarded plans that reached as many students in a state as possible. The two winning states — Tennessee and Delaware — scored high marks for doing so.

Still, the six California districts serve more than 1 million students, officials said, more students than in the state of Tennessee and a greater number than the entire population of Delaware.

These six districts are pursuing the sort of reforms advocated by the federal government, said Bonnie Reiss, education secretary for Schwarzenegger.

Their efforts include using data systems that track the progress of individual students and linking teacher evaluations to multiple measures of student performance.

It’s not too late for other districts to join in, Reiss added. They would then qualify themselves for a share of up to $700 million that California could win.

States must turn in their applications by June 1. Kansas, Indiana, Vermont and Alaska have decided not to apply. Texas spurned the competition from the start.

-- Howard Blume

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