Teacher law jeopardizes grant money

SACRAMENTO — California schools may have lost the Race to the Top.

The state isn't likely to see any of the $4.35 billion in competitive federal grants that will be passed out as part of the American Recovery Act if legislators don't rescind a law that prevents teachers from being evaluated based on student test scores, federal officials say.

"Any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluation will have to change its ways if it wants to compete for a grant," President Barack Obama said in a news conference Friday.

California's education code states that a system tracking teacher data, to be online next year, is not to be used in combination with student information to evaluate teachers.

Wisconsin and Nevada have similar laws.

Officials from nearly a dozen states joined Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday at the Education Department to announce the criteria for Race to the Top funds.

The president wants states to do four things: adopt tough academic standards, find better ways to recruit and keep effective teachers, institute plans to deal with failing schools and track student performance.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Friday the California law is misunderstood. He said it doesn't prevent school districts from using student assessment results for teacher evaluation or compensation. He said the Long Beach and Garden Grove school districts are doing just that and that a dozen other districts are contemplating using student data to judge teacher performance.

"This is simply a matter of local control that appropriately ensures school districts handle their own personnel decisions," O'Connell said in a prepared statement.

Hard to identify best, worst

But the president contends California is lagging in teacher accountability.

"There are 300,000 teachers in California," Obama said. "The top 10 percent are 30,000 of the best and the bottom 10 percent are 30,000 of the worst, but there is no way to tell which is which."

California has not put a data system tracking student performance online, though it plans to do so in a month. The system will track a student's classes, grades and test scores. It will include teacher information that can be tied to student outcomes, said Rick Miller, deputy superintendent of California schools.

A statewide system tracking teacher data is scheduled to be online next year.

California teachers are not opposed to tying teacher evaluations to student scores, said David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association. He said, however, that the union would never agree to merit pay or tying student achievement to salaries.

He said teachers should be evaluated at the district level.

"It would create another bureaucracy we don't need," Sanchez said of a state system.

He expressed disappointment at the president's words.

"Reading scores have gone up and math scores have gone up," he said. "It's getting more and more challenging these days, asking us us to do more with less."