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California loses bid for federal Race to the Top education grant


California has fallen short in its bid to win a controversial federal Race to the Top school-reform grant.

The winners, just confirmed by federal officials, are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

Had they prevailed, participating California school systems stood to receive as much as $700 million. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school system, was in line for about $120 million; Long Beach Unified would have received at least $18 million.

The Obama administration created the competitive grant program to spur its vision of reform nationwide. A total of $3.4 billion was available.

In California, school districts had pledged to pursue reforms that included linking teacher evaluations to the standardized test scores of their students. The grant application committed them to using this test-score analysis for at least 30% of a teacher's evaluation.

A new evaluation system, however, would need to be negotiated with local teacher unions, and that was by no means automatic. In fact, California representatives were queried about that issue during a 90-minute presentation this month before federal evaluators in Washington, D.C.

The five-member California delegation included L.A. schools chief Ramon C. Cortines and Supt. Christopher J. Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified. Neither teacher union signed the state application nor did either of the two major state teacher unions.

As a result, California lost some points with evaluators, but officials stressed that no single virtue or shortcoming would by itself determine the fate of an application.

The California superintendents told evaluators that they thought they could bring local unions on board, and, if they could not, they were prepared to return federal dollars accordingly. L.A. Unified has moved on that front in the last few days, with union officials signaling a willingness to negotiate over the possible inclusion of test scores as part of a reshaped, multifaceted teacher evaluation.

California's plan focused on strategies favored by the Obama administration, such as placing the most effective educators in struggling schools and improving instruction through the improved use of data.

The state blueprint also embraced the federal endorsement of aggressive remedies, such as replacing the staff at a poorly performing school and converting it to an independently run charter school. Most charters schools are non-union, another arena of discomfort for teacher unions.

In the end, the number of high-quality applications overstretched the available funding, said department spokesman Justin Hamilton. As a result, a few deserving states had to go home empty-handed, he said.

Delaware and Tennessee already had prevailed in a first round, which concluded in March.

Critics have long argued that some states, including California, were too willing to trade the prospect of badly needed, one-time funding for policies that were academically unproven and that could prove prohibitively expensive over the long term.

Still, some unions supported the final product in their states. The efforts in New York and Florida were endorsed by Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers. She praised leaders in those states for being inclusive of teachers. She said such collaboration was missing in California.

California officials were divided on whether to bid a second time, especially because the state had failed to make the finals. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to try again.

The result was a revamped approach that relied on a core of superintendents who committed to deep and fast changes. But even that wasn't enough.

-- Howard Blume

Photo: LAUSD Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, right, leads U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a tour of Samuel Gompers Middle School in 2009. Duncan urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to apply again for the federal grant. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (114)

A Letter from Germany

I was a teacher on german gymnasiums for more then 25 years and I quit, because we also introduced some kind of 'race to the top' with the help of
ever lasting evaluations and competitions between countries, schools and
even between classes. Also german teachers were banned, if they didn't
'produce' enough good notes in their classes. This lead to even more
problems and it sometimes had rather strange results. There was an ever
growing tnedency of "producing" fake notes to circumvent the real
educational problems. These fakes themselves mounted up to some well
known (between the teachers) fake schools, and now we have the situation,
that even parts of our country don't have enough trust, because some of them
accuse others (even in the media) to produce fake official results, and by
this way want to gain reputation and influence upon the overall education
system. Making fake is not that hard for a teacher: you can for instance
directly train pupils in how to make got test results (please don't mix this
up with "having learned something"). This is especially true just before
graduations (german abitur or greater yearly tests). There is a fast growing
shadow market of private "Nachhilfeschulen", which make lots of money,
but yoz have to ask yourself: "Who can afford this, and who not?".

I want to mention, that to my opinion the american "race to the top"
project does not give better education, this is a typical elite project. It does
not touch the problems the american children a feced with, which live in
bad financial and social situations. Racing for money between american
states looks rather strange to me.

I was a teacher in mathematics, physics and computer science (the hard ones)
and what I can tell you is this: There is a tight connection between the
social situation in which school children have to live and the learning efforts they make (and also their happiness about this).

Truely, I also have no perfect answer to the many problems, public schools
worldwide have, but judging the success by only looking at the output (the
test notes and the like) is a typical elite way in trying to handle things.
Making teachers bad persons, if their pupils don't produce whats needed,
does not make anything better, even more worse. It doesn't solve anything and to my opinion gives an additional backdoor to social darwinism without facing the underlying educational and social problems of the children.

I hope, that american families and especially the politicians don't look that
much after the money, but try to answer questions about "why" it is so hard
for some children to learn something. Therefore, everybody should raise its
voice and discuss the subject. This should be no race for money but a race
for really solving an everlasting educational problem.

Detlef Reimers

California looks like the big loser here. If you look at the winners they are generally large Democrat states, and all in the East. California is both the largest and most Democrat. Are they getting tired of Pelosi in Washington?

According to Wikipedia, the teaching profession has the high stress levels of any profession. There is little to no support system put in place for teachers. Compared to other professions requiring similar education, teacher salaries are not that good. It would seem that teacher unions have failed to support teachers as well in that teachers are regularly blamed and bashed for everything that goes wrong in education. Given the recent release of the cost of RFK Community Schools in LA and the high salaries of administration, you would think Arne Duncan would demand accountability from administration. Blaming teachers only ensures this is a dying profession.

You cant fix everything with money.

I think alot of you looking at CA economy/gov as it used to be. I look forward to comments trying to explain why CA bonds are one of lowest rated bonds in country. What CA was and is are two seperate issues.

Good comment by Nick B.
"It's a shame that the state isn't receiving this funding, but the Obama administration's entire approach to education reform is quite misguided. Educating America's young people is not and should never be a competitive endeavor; school districts and governments at all levels should never need to "race to the top" to receive funding. Isn't providing an equitable, high-quality education to all students nationwide our real purpose?"

Key point in the article- not that the superintendants drafted the submission. Where was the teacher input???

Maybe this is not such a bad thing. LAUSD, at least, would have squandered every penny of any amount awarded. You thought it; I wrote it.

prop 187 would have stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants to a trickle. Now, look at the student population of LAUSD: 75% Latino. Where do you think these kids came from? Prop 187 was passed by the populace then over turned by a federal judge. I'm not judging the parents, most are wonderful people. However, no education and no idea of how to raise kids in the United States = poor performing, chaotic schools. The feds created this situation and now they refuse to fund it...nice.

So the Fed Government dangles a carrot when we are in most need. Then they require us to change all sorts of things in our ed code, and then we end up receiving no funding?

There is an old saying you can't make up 50 % of the rules when you are only providing 15% of he funding. In this case, they changed our rules and provided us with 0% funding.


The LA Unified School District has a 44% high school graduation rate.
How much lower do you have to go to qualify???

It's to bad our students & teachers are being held hostage. I guess they haven't seen the L.A. Times article "Annual test scores rise in L.A. Unified schools." Aug.17 by Howard Blume. I guess progress doesn't count. Well we can still do what Oregon did and pass a measure equivalent to Measure 66, to pay for state services & education.

What is California doing when it funds close to $700 million for one RFK LA Community Schools and ignores all the other children in the State? Sounds like California is following Arne Duncan's example when he takes federal money from California to fund Duncan's preference in schooling children from other states. If our tax dollars go to support children from other states while depriving our own children, then how is this called fair? Are the states to act as tenant farmers who pay taxes to the feds to provide for the whim of elitists collectors at the federal level who decide California's kids don't matter? Give me a break.

JUSTICE, You said that not all children should go to college, that we need skilled trades like plumbers, mechanics and electricians. What makes you think that plumbesrs, mechanics and electricians haven't been to college? Have you ever heard of math, physics, pnuematics, metallurgy, algebra and other sciences? Without that knowledge there would be no plumbers, mechanics or electricians. No, not all of it has to be learned in college, but there is a lot more to being a skilled tradesperson than just wearing a hardhat and workboots. And if the term "skilled trades" doesn't give you a hint, then maybe you need to go back to school.

I'm sorry, Correction. that was to pjt2352 who thinks that skilled tradespersons are not educated.

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