Local Educators Question Push for Stimulus Funds

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California may receive up to $700 million in federal stimulus funds if it wins a national competition for public education reform, but even if the state receives such funding, local educators question its utility.

The U.S. Department of Education released the finalized application for the $4 billion federal stimulus program, known as the Race to the Top Fund, yesterday.

The program will award grants to states with histories of raising student achievement that also show plans to reform their public education systems. The applications for the first phase of the competition are due by Jan. 19, and winners will be announced by April 2010.

The competition for the fund provides a chance for the state of California to improve its public education through systemic change, said Hilary McLean, director of communications for the California Department of Education.

"Instead of sprinkling a little grant here and a little grant there and giving each district a bit of money, the Race to the Top fund lets us find ways to change our system," she said.

On Nov. 4, the California State Senate passed a bill to make the state eligible and more competitive for the stimulus fund.

The bill, proposed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and authored by Senator Gloria Romero, D-East Los Angeles, would remove the state's limit on the number of charter schools and authorize the use of students' standardized test scores, among other data, to evaluate teacher and administrator performance.

But local educators said the data from standardized test scores needs to be tracked for longer periods of time before they would be a reliable gauge of teachers and administrators' performance.

"On some levels, it has some validity, but on another level, teachers don't pick the students who come into their classes," said John Selawsky, a member of the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education. "It is not exactly like comparing apples and apples; each class has its own range of skills."

Although evaluating this data could be useful in tracking students' improvement, an equitable system of rewards for teachers and administrators has yet to be developed, said Bill Huyett, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District.

"I think that it's good practice to use data to see how your students are doing and the quality of the instructional program," he said. "But teachers who teach very capable kids will be rewarded, while teachers who teach impoverished students in the inner-city areas will be punished."

Selawsky also said the state has to go beyond vying for the state stimulus and find sustainable ways to gain revenues to fund the state's public education.

"Quick fixes don't work; Sacramento has to be serious to fix this systemically," Selawsky said. "You can't really bring in sustainable resources with one time money, so it's only so good anyway."


Contact Paul Edison at [email protected]

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