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80 districts, including L.A. Unified, could vie for federal grants

August 31, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivers a closing address at the Education Summit in 2011.

Eighty California school systems plan to apply for a high-profile, federal school-reform grant that the state was unable to win in the past, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.

The “Race to the Top” grants have attracted wide attention since their inception because they represented, in effect, a federal seal of approval on a state’s efforts to improve its schools.

Individual school districts, for the first time, will be able to seek the federal funds. The four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served. The Department of Education is expecting to make 15 to 25 awards.

“I believe the best ideas come from leaders at the local level,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record of success.”

Critics have faulted the program for promoting reforms they say are not supported by research and for providing too little funding for the measures undertaken.

But L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy has repeatedly stated that he wanted an opportunity to apply, and that the funds would help pay for efforts already underway in the nation's second-largest school district.

Deasy has embraced the favored reforms, including the use of student standardized test scores as one measure of a teacher’s effectiveness. The teachers union has challenged that plan.

Union opposition was one factor that counted against California in earlier Race to the Top applications. Neither Gov. Jerry Brown nor state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have shown much interest in future Race to the Top applications at the state level.

Other local school systems that have expressed interest in applying include Compton, Glendale, Lynwood and West Covina.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, shown at an education summit last year, said in a statement this his department hopes to fund "districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record of success." Credit: Ed Andrieski / Associated Press

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