At a time when California has cut funding dramatically for K-12 education and may have to cut more after next week's election it makes no sense for school districts to leave millions in federal education dollars on the table.
Yet California school districts have had to struggle to win teachers union support for a new round of Race to the Top competitive grants specifically for school districts as much as $40 million per district, depending upon size.
This competition for districts seeking to improve academic performance with personalized learning for students is well worth pursuing in these tough financial times.
A consortium of districts got together over the summer and decided to prepare three separate applications -- one focused on middle school math (Sacramento City, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Clovis and Sanger), another on early literacy Pre-K-Grade 3 (Fresno and Long Beach), and one to expand career partnership academies in low-performing high schools (Los Angeles Unified).
So far, teachers in the Central Valley (Sanger and Clovis) are the only ones to signal support before the original deadline today. Teachers have held out in the other districts.
How could teachers pass up this opportunity to win real improvements in student learning?
As with earlier rounds of Race to the Top, they object to a requirement that districts include student test scores or other measures of student growth as a "significant factor" in teacher evaluations by the 2014-15 school year.
In Fresno, the superintendent had hoped the union would sign on Friday, but it did not. In Fresno, union leaders said, "We just couldn't sign off on this grant because of the implications it had on evaluations."
In Sacramento, 90 middle school teachers have been working on new ways of teaching math to reach sixth to eighth graders, where schools tend to see a major drop-off in performance. These rank-and-file teachers need to approach their union leadership and tell them how important this effort is and what a difference millions of dollars in federal grants could make.
Should measures of student academic growth, including test scores, be a part of teacher evaluations? You bet.
That basic principle should be state policy and it is. The Stull Act requires school districts to include student progress toward state standards in evaluating teachers. But few districts comply.
Race to the Top does not require that student growth be the sole measure in evaluating teachers only that it be one factor among others, which is reasonable.
Due to Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, the U.S. Department of Education has extended today's deadline.
Parents and the larger community should approach their school boards, superintendents and teachers, urging them to take up the Race to the Top challenge.