The Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Education released two major proposals for stakeholder comment in summer 2009, and TCTA submitted extensive comments on both. The proposals would increase emphasis, via funding availability, on performance pay, adding charter schools and linking individual teachers to student test scores.

One addressed proposed requirements and criteria for Phase 2 of the $48 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF). The second dealt with the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” Fund” designed to create incentives for future education reform. TCTA was the only statewide teacher organization in the country to comment on the stabilization fund requirements. 

State Fiscal Stabilization Fund

Under Phase 2 of the SFSF proposal, states will apply for the remaining $12 billion (Texas applied for, and received, $2,900,848,012 under Phase 1 of the SFSF). The deadline for applications from states for Phase 2 is spring 2010, with winners announced by September 2010.

Overall, TCTA had significant concerns (see Concerns below) about the Phase 2 SFSF proposal, centering on the fact that it appeared to be pushing an agenda that exceeded statutory authority and was not supported by research. For example, it included a proposal to determine whether highly qualified teachers are equitably distributed between high- and low-poverty schools and to ensure that low-income and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers. This would be based on factors like how teacher and principal performance is evaluated, and on the distribution of performance evaluation ratings or levels among teachers and principals. 

TCTA argued that it seemed clear that the USDE was attempting to substitute “effective teachers” for the statutory term “highly qualified teachers,” as well as to use this opportunity as a mechanism to expose shortcomings in the design and usage of teacher performance evaluation systems, none of which is reasonably related to the statute’s focus on whether low-income and minority children are taught at higher rates by inexperienced, unqualified, or out-of-field teachers. 

TCTA additionally objected to the USDE's proposal that another criterion under the program will be whether the state provides teachers with data on student performance that includes estimates of individual teacher impact on student achievement, promoting the use of value-added models in order to determine individual teacher impact on student achievement. In response, TCTA pointed out that there’s a good deal of consensus among researchers who have concerns about the accuracy, reliability and validity of using value-added models to produce estimates of individual teacher impact on student performance. 

In another area of the proposal, the USDE proposed focusing on charters as a primary solution for dealing with struggling schools. TCTA again objected, due to the fact that the  primary focus appeared to be to encourage the proliferation of charter schools despite multiple data sources indicating that charter schools are not outperforming their traditional public school counterparts and may, in some areas including Texas, be significantly underperforming.

“Race to the Top” Fund

The second, and more visible proposal released by the USDE was the $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” Fund, which is designed to create incentives for future improvement in four areas of reform:

  • adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • building data systems that measure student success and inform educators how they can improve their practices;
  • recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals; and
  • turning around the nation’s lowest-performing schools. 

The USDE plans to make grants in two phases. Phase 1 will open late in 2009, and Phase 2 in late spring 2010.

TCTA again had significant concerns (see Concerns below) about the proposal, many of them similar to our concerns about the stabilization fund proposal.  For example, the USDE proposed criteria related to the extent to which the state has a plan to differentiate the effectiveness of teachers and principals using multiple rating categories that take into account student growth as a significant factor.  TCTA objected to the proposed definition of student growth based on student achievement on state standardized grade-level assessments, arguing that these tests have not been validated for use as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

TCTA additionally objected to proposed criteria to examine the extent to which a state has a charter school law that does not prohibit or effectively inhibit increasing the number of charter schools in the state as a means to address turning around low-performing schools.  TCTA noted that the proposal did nothing to limit charter growth to high-quality charters only.

It is unclear whether Texas will qualify for the funds, as one of the proposed requirements for Phase 1 of the fund is "the extent to which the State has demonstrated commitment to improving the quality of its standards by participating in a consortium of States that is working toward jointly developing and adopting, by June 2010, a common set of K-12 standards that are internationally benchmarked and that build toward college and career readiness by the time of high school graduation." The Texas Commissioner of Education has gone on record expressing his reluctance to participate in such an effort, noting that Texas has a long and practiced history of developing its own content standards. 

The proposal for this area in Phase 2 of the fund is even more pointed, requiring a state to actually adopt the common set of K-12 standards developed by the consortium. At this point in time, Texas is one of only three states declining to participate in the existing consortium of states working toward common K-12 standards (joining Alaska and South Carolina). Given the emphasis being put on these requirements, it will be interesting to see whether Texas receives funds under this program.

Apparently the USDE wants to move quickly in finalizing the proposal and getting the money distributed, so we expect decisions about the final proposal in the near future.

 

 

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