On August 24, 2010, California’s application for education grants from Phase 2 of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) Fund was denied by the U.S. Department of Education. Had the state qualified, school systems that were involved could have received as much as $700 million in education bonuses.
The RTTT is a competitive grant program created through the ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). The ARRA, aimed at rebuilding the economy, increasing jobs, and putting the spotlight on items of critical importance, including education, provides $4.35 billion to the RTTT. The idea behind the RTTT is to reward states that consistently show increased success rates in student achievements and plan to implement educational reforms in the future. According to the RTTT Program Executive Summary, states are awarded grants based on how they score on a point scale. Points are distributed based on criteria such as state success factors, turning around low-achieving schools, and meeting set standards.
Although educators and officials said that no single reason precluded California from qualifying, some factors did put California in an unsatisfactory position. One reason why points were deducted from California was because teacher unions disagreed [with the state] on several matters, including creating a link between teacher performances and student standardized test scores. According to the grant application, the test scores were to be used for 30% of teacher assessments. The requirement to transform poorly performing schools into independent charter schools also caused friction between the state and teacher unions, as charter schools are usually non-union.
However, the majority agreed on many of the changes required for the competition, including expanding and improving the education data system, and placing effective, efficient teachers in poorly performing schools to improve instruction. California also agreed to switch to federal education standards for mathematics and language arts, as per the RTTT, which caused much controversy because the new federal standards are said to be less difficult than the existing California standards.
“If California does adopt federal standards for math and English language arts, I would hope that they would maintain the rigor and quality of the current state standards.” said MSJHS Assistant Principal Diana Brumbaugh. Yet because of its rejection, California is out of the competition without enough funding to implement some of the important changes that were contained in the RTTT application.