Press Release

OAKLAND, CA (November 19, 2009) – Last week, the US Department of Education released its final regulations for the Race to the Top application.  California must now – in short order – decide if it is going to sprint or step off the starting block to win a share of the $4.35 billion pot.

It should be an easy decision.  In a year when California faces another massive budget deficit, it stands a chance to receive up to $700 million with an unprecedented focus on dramatically improving teaching and learning in our state’s public schools. Our leaders have a golden opportunity to draft a bold competitive plan that prioritizes both educational equity and innovative educational reforms that can benefit our highest need students.

 “We know that students of color and low-income students are concentrated in many of our lowest-performing schools. Race to the Top is about promoting equity in funding, equity in instruction, equity in supports and equity in opportunities,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West. “The federal government recognizes that nothing is more critical than an effective teacher workforce if we are ever going to close the appalling achievement gaps that plague our schools. Now it’s up to state leaders to write a plan reflective of this and do what’s right for the students of California.”

It is simply impossible to achieve the goals of Race to the Top without addressing quality of teaching, particularly in the state’s chronically low-performing schools.  Two new reports Fighting for Quality and Equality, Too by The Education Trust and How Bold is Bold by The New Teacher Project highlight specific actions we can take in our Race to the Top application to ensure that teacher quality doesn’t just trickle down to low-income and children of color:

  • Measure each teachers’ impact on student academic growth
  • Require teacher evaluations to focus on effectiveness
  • Place information on teacher effectiveness in the hands of teachers and principals
  • Ensure that districts reform hiring and placement practices so that staffing decisions are based on teacher effectiveness and not seniority
  • Make certain that high-poverty districts and schools have the financial resources they need to attract and retain highly effective teachers
  • Ensure our highest need schools have the flexibility to select their teachers and are protected from the arbitrary placement of teachers by districts based on seniority, especially during layoffs

Of course, none of this work can be done without a data system that links student outcomes to the teachers responsible for educating them. The Education Trust report highlights that the proper systems must be in place so a teacher’s effectiveness can be measured by how well his/her students perform, evidenced by test scores along with other measures.

“If we are truly to do what is best for all students in California, we must have information about which teachers are the most effective, and why. That way we can identify the great from the good, the effective from the ineffective, and change the unfair practice of assigning the least qualified teachers to the students most in need of great ones.” said Ramanathan. “For California to win the Race to the Top, it must make sure that our highest need students are taught by our most effective teachers.  If we do not, we run the very real risk of being left on the sidelines.”