Race To The Top is About More Than Money

SACRAMENTO – California is scrambling for federal Race to the Top grants but there is more at stake than money according to state Sen. Gloria Romero, who held an informational hearing on October 14.

“I’m open to having discussions on accountability and what works,” said Sen. Romero in the hearing. “It’s not just about money, this is about the future of the face of education in California.”

States must meet 19 requirements in order to qualify for the federal grant but the biggest debates concern teachers’ performance evaluations. To qualify for Race to the Top grants, California needed to remove the “firewall” preventing the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Earlier this month Gov. Schwarzenegger signed SB 19 which deletes the language in California’s Education Code (Sec. 10601.5) that prevented student testing data from being linked with teacher evaluation. Senate Bill X5 1 authored by Senators Gloria Romero (D-East LA), Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), Mark Wyland (R-San Diego) and Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) brings additional reforms to the table. The measure consists of three main points: teacher performance, charter schools and open enrollment.

Allowing districts to use student testing data for teacher performance evaluation is also a key component of instructional quality. Practically, any legislative actions may not necessarily change the use of union contracts in the evaluation process. Teacher contracts can limit number of observation hours and require notice of classroom visits. Tenure still applies, and salaries would most likely remain in the lock-step system regardless of performance or open access to data.

Looking at teacher performance through data will provide insight to instruction methods that are working, but there must also be reward for teachers performing well. Good examples of performance-pay programs are being implemented and practiced across the country. For instance, since 1999 the Milken Family Foundation developed the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) enabling veteran teachers to be “mentors” or “master teachers” and work with novice teachers to hone their skills and raise student performance.

The program consists of multiple career paths for teachers, ongoing applied professional development, instructionally focused accountability, and performance-based compensation. Currently, more than 7,500 teachers and 85,000 students nationwide are benefitting from the TAP program. In 2006, Business Week recognized the program saying, “Teacher turnover in TAP schools is just half the national average. And in most TAP schools, test scores have been significantly higher.”

The Texas Educator Excellence Grant (TEEG), rewards teachers in high poverty, high performing campuses. This year, roughly 1,000 individual public schools are using TEEG money to reward teachers. There is also the District Awards for Teacher Excellence (DATE) a locally designed district compensation plan that rewards teachers for large gains in student learning with bonuses; and incentivizes behavior with teacher stipends, staff incentives, principal incentives, and rewarding professional development.

“Sadly, the majority of school districts across the country are hamstrung by antiquated salary structures that reward seniority over effectiveness, and that treat teachers more like factory workers than professionals. When performance is ignored, excellent teachers are underpaid and mediocre teachers are overpaid,” said Brooke Terry, education policy analyst from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Education reform is not about money. Race to the Top funds may help California improve teacher quality, but that is not enough to turn around a low-performing state. More attention to charter schools and open enrollment are steps in the right direction. If legislators are truly serious about changing the face of education in California they will enact full school choice.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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