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Twenty-one California school districts apply for controversial federal grant

November 14, 2012 |  7:04 pm

Twenty-one California school districts and educational consortiums have applied for a $400 million federal grant program that has been strongly opposed by many teachers unions.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Wednesday that it received 371 applications -- representing more than 1,100 school districts -- for the national Race to the Top competition. The competition, which was extended from states to individual school districts for the first time this year, is expected to award 15 to 25 four-year grants of $5 million to $40 million.

The grants are aimed at improving student achievement and teacher effectiveness, closing learning gaps among different groups of pupils and preparing all for college and careers. The awards are also aimed at promoting more individualized learning.

"We're thrilled at the response we've received from districts across the country that have developed innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "We want to support local efforts that will close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment by funding those plans that have a clear vision and track record of success."

California applicants include school districts in Los Angeles, Burbank, Montebello, Riverside, Fullerton, San Rafael and Merced.

Los Angeles Unified submitted its $40-million application without the required support from United Teachers Los Angeles, which has raised concerns that it would cost more money to implement than the grant would bring in. Many teachers also oppose the grant’s requirement that a teacher evaluation system using test scores or other measures of student achievement be in place by 2014.

But some school districts succeeded in gaining support from their teachers union. Administrators and union officials in the Merced Union High School District, for instance, agreed to negotiate the possible use of schoolwide or district test scores, rather than those of a teacher’s individual students, in the evaluation system.

L.A. Unified's 150-page application proposes to focus in the first year on 25,000 students in 35 low-performing middle and high schools. Sixty percent of ninth-graders fail to earn enough credits to advance to 10th grade, marking a critical “tipping point” for them, the application says. To help them and others, the district is proposing personalized learning plans aided by digital tablets, summer school, learning projects linked to careers, anti-dropout counseling and other services.

The awards will be announced by Dec. 31. The list of applicants is posted here.

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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