Statement by The Education Trust—West on the Federal Government’s Release of “Race to the Top” Fund Regulations and California’s Failure to Meet Them
OAKLAND, CA (July 27, 2009) “Friday, the U.S. Department of Education released regulations for its ‘Race to the Top’ fund that contained sobering news for California. Our state’s ban on using student achievement data to help measure teacher effectiveness threatens our eligibility to apply for portions of the $4.35 billion fund. California’s potential exclusion from this competitive grant process is a blow to students already burdened by massive budget cuts, as well as a forceful wake-up call to state leaders.
The law in question—on the books since 2006—prohibits the state from linking teacher data to student achievement data for the purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or evaluation. Although state law does permit this practice in local school districts, the vast majority of districts across the state do not use student achievement data—such as performance on the California Standards Tests—to assess the effectiveness of their teachers.
Understanding which teachers or group of teachers are most successful at raising student achievement is a critical step in improving outcomes for all of our students. Without a linkage between student and teacher data, we simply do not know enough about what preparation programs or instructional strategies make a great teacher great. Instead, we rely on proxies such as degrees held or years spent in the classroom to assess teacher quality.
Students, schools, and communities are poorly served by such a system, and low-income students and students of color particularly so. If California’s schools are going to improve student outcomes and close the achievement gaps that persist between student groups, we need more—not less—critical information about teacher effectiveness.
President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan are providing unprecedented leadership and investment in education. They have laid out a series of ambitious goals for states, and charted a course toward bold reform. California’s state leaders must now make some hard choices. Either get in the game, or sit on the sidelines.
The question remains, will state leaders sit and watch as the rest of the nation reforms the way we do school in this country or will they join the movement to reclaim America’s position as a global pacesetter in education?
In our current fiscal crisis, when California’s public schools and students have been forced to endure a $6 billion budget cut, state leaders simply can’t afford to forfeit our opportunity to win this ‘Race to the Top.’ ”
Linda Murray, Acting Executive Director
The Education Trust—West