Three California districts win in federal Race to the Top competition

Three California school districts are among 16 winners in the latest round of the federal Race to the Top funding competition. The relatively small districts beat out several of the state’s largest districts, which didn’t even make it into the final round.

This round of funding was the first in the series of Race to the Top competitions to be made available to individual districts. New Haven Unified in Union City, with about 13,000 students, was the largest of the California winners. Lindsay Unified, in the Central Valley midway between Fresno and Bakersfield, and Galt Elementary District, south of Sacramento, also won. Each of those districts has around 4,000 students. The three districts won a combined total of just under $50 million to implement a range of reforms.

The awards were especially notable because California has failed in its previous bids to win Race to the Top funding for its K-12 schools. The only piece of the $4.3 billion fund that the state has won so far is $53 million to strengthen programs for the state’s youngest children (from 0 to 5 years) in last year’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge competition.

New Haven Unified had one of the strongest applications in the country, ranking second out of 351 applicants. The district was awarded $29 million. That includes funding for an ambitious technology plan to provide each student in grades 6 through 12 with a digital tablet. Tablets will be provided for students in the lower grades as well, at a ratio of one tablet for every two students. Teachers will also be given tablets and laptops to help with instruction. In addition, the funds will expand programs and activities already under way, including hiring additional literacy, math and assessment coaches to help teachers use data to personalize instruction for students and leadership development.

Superintendent Kari McVeigh said there was “incredible jubilation” in the New Haven district offices when the news came. “People were literally dancing and screaming,” she said.

Lindsay Unified School District will use its $10 million grant to speed up its transition to performance-based learning. (click to enlarge).

Lindsay Unified School District will use its $10 million grant to speed up its transition to performance-based learning. (click to enlarge).

McVeigh said having a tablet in the hands of every middle and high school student will allow the district to collect real-time data on student learning, provide students with up-to-date web-based texts, and allow teachers to put their class lessons directly on tablets.

Lindsay Unified was awarded $10 million for its proposal to track all students with individualized learning plans. Lindsay Superintendent Tom Rooney said the grant will allow the district to accelerate and refine its program by training every teacher and principal in how to personalize curriculum, testing and electronic grading. Rooney said the progress his district has already made likely contributed to its successful application. “We have the capacity to make this reform and we’ve demonstrated that capacity,” Rooney said.

The small rural district made it just under the wire – it was ranked 16th of the 16 winners announced Tuesday, squeaking by with a score just one point higher than the Missouri district that came in 17th.

The Galt Joint Union Elementary District was also awarded nearly $10 million. The funds will allow the district to continue work on a series of reforms it initiated in 2008. A key element will be to integrate StrengthsExplorer, a program that identifies and builds on the strengths of each student to create individualized learning

Superintendent Karen Schauer heard the news that Galt had won minutes before a scheduled meeting with union representatives. Schauer said the

Galt Joint Union School District will receive $10 million over four years for it's personalized learning program. (click to enlarge).

Galt Joint Union School District will receive $10 million over four years for its personalized learning program. (click to enlarge).

local union had worked closely with the district as it dealt with school closures and figured out a way to tie student academic performance, among other measures, to teacher evaluations.

“We’ve been collaborating with the union in win-win ways in Galt, California,” Schauer said. “We’re really proud of that because it is not easy to do.”

Ánimo Charter Schools, a group of middle and high schools in Los Angeles that are part of Green Dot Public Schools, made the list of finalists in November, but did not make the final cut. Another 17 California districts applied and either did not meet eligibility requirements or did not make it to the finals. Among these are some of the state’s largest districts, including San Diego Unified, Los Angeles Unified and Fresno Unified.

One of the main obstacles in California and elsewhere has been the requirement to tie measures of student academic performance to teacher evaluations. The three California winners all have some form of teacher evaluation linked to student performance already in place in their districts.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said yesterday that the winning districts set a high bar for innovation and locally-driven reform, adding that there were so many solid proposals submitted that the Department of Education would have made grants to more than the top 16 applicants if they had had more money to spend. “The number of strong applicants was greater than the number of dollars available,” said Duncan.


Filed under: Federal Education Policy, State Education Policy



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10 Responses to “Three California districts win in federal Race to the Top competition”

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  1. Pat on Sep 11, 2013 at 2:40 pm09/11/2013 2:40 pm

    • 000

    It’s always disturbing to me when I find a basic grammatical error in an article in an educational publication :-(

    “Galt Joint Union School District will receive $10 million over four years for it’s personalized learning program. (click to enlarge).”


    • Lillian Mongeau on Sep 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm09/11/2013 2:51 pm

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      Oops!! Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out, Pat.

  2. Paul on Dec 15, 2012 at 10:10 am12/15/2012 10:10 am

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    The San Francisco Chronicle published a revealing photo* with its article about New Haven Unified’s Race-to-the-Top grant.

    First, the students look like thugs. One third are wearing baseball caps, or the hoods of their hooded sweatshirts, while in class. Teaching students to project a positive image doesn’t cost anything, and would be more universally valuable than any academic lesson. The baseball cap and “hoodie” crew is not employable as such. Moreover, I suspect that federal taxpayers would balk at spending money on schools with low standards of student conduct.

    Second, the existing computer lab is outfitted with Apple iMac computers worth $1300+ apiece. In procuring those computers, the district focused on form rather than function. K-12 students use computers to type essays, access the Web, and read digital textbooks. Generic $500 PCs perform those functions just as well. A value-conscious school district could have acquired more than double the number of computers for the same price. (To be fair, Apple-brand equipment would be advantageous for high-level classes in animation or video editing. Such classes are not widespread.)

    New Haven Unified will use its the Race-to-the-Top funds to buy tablet computers for half of all elementary students and for all secondary students. The specified functions to be performed are: taking tests online, checking grades online, and accessing digital textbooks. Though I haven’t read the text of the grant application, I am willing to bet that “tablet computer” means a $400+ Apple iPad rather than a $100 generic tablet running Google’s Android operating system. The generic product would serve the specified functions just as well.

    I’m not interested in saving money for the sake of saving money. The point is to stretch technology dollars further, so that more students benefit and money is left over for the “soft” costs that school districts always seem to forget (teacher training, tech. support, spare units).

    * I didn’t want to be too specific in citing the photo, as it names the school, the class and the teacher, when my comments are general in nature. I do not mean to criticize a particular teacher. Part of my point is that conditions in the photo are typical of California’s public schools.


    • el on Dec 16, 2012 at 11:39 am12/16/2012 11:39 am

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      Paul, as far as Apple vs. other, I leave that to the people on the ground to decide. My experience is that the generic $500 machines skimp in durability and ruggedness in a way that is especially apparent in a multiuser environment. And as a developer, one of the problems with the Android OS is that because each hardware vendor can customize it, devices tend to get orphaned in the software path. In any case, the real cost is in the IT staff necessary to manage and oversee the hardware and the network, not in the computers themselves. Oh, and in the batteries, which are a substantial percentage of portable device costs and need to be replaced regularly.

    • Manuel on Dec 17, 2012 at 8:35 pm12/17/2012 8:35 pm

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      Paul: it has been my experience that using Windows-based computers in a school environment leads to too many problems for the IT staff not to mention that malware can bring school networks to their knees (just google “Lake Washington schools virus” and you’ll see what I mean). So far, Macs avoid these problems. The other problem is longevity: while pc and Mac hardware get obsolescent at the same rate, Apple has managed to keep its OS working for many years past its replacement date (I am typing this in a 9-year-old Mac running an OS last updated three years ago; try that in a pc). In the long run, what is saved in initial costs is dwarfed by the IT costs plus the cost of the wasted time trying to get pcs to behave.

      Granted, google is promoting its new Chromebook, but its ecosystem will drive school districts up the wall since it heavily depends on the Cloud for storage and the apps all come from google. You get what you pay for!

  3. Lynn Kopf Reed on Dec 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm12/12/2012 5:59 pm

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  4. Manuel on Dec 12, 2012 at 12:52 pm12/12/2012 12:52 pm

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    After checking on their actual enrollment through DataQuest, it turns out that New Haven Unified has nearly 13,000 students. Thus, the funds per student for all three districts average around $2,400. This amount is roughly 30% of their current ADA (according to CDE’s spreadsheets on current expenses for 2010-11). Let’s hope that they can indeed do what they proposed to do.

    If these districts manage to deliver, would the state be willing to up schools funds equally to all districts? Given that there are about 6.2 million students in California, are we collectively willing to spend the nearly $15 billion it would take to do so?

  5. Jeff Camp on Dec 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm12/12/2012 12:24 pm

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    These three districts and their teacher leaders should feel very proud – and maybe a little self-conscious. The big-picture vision behind this sort of competitive grant is smart. Give some smart, motivated teams in differing contexts the resources to play out their ideas and see what works. It beats the heck out of inflicting unproven one-size-fits-all solutions on everybody at once, which is the way that education reform is often done.

    We are heading toward big, big changes in the relationship between learning, teaching, computing and communicating. The cost of key technologies is dropping, and the public is, reasonably, coming to expect that schools will keep up with the times. The Race to the Top districts will be one source of examples for this conversation.

  6. Liam Bayer on Dec 12, 2012 at 10:08 am12/12/2012 10:08 am

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    Congratulations to these three – Galt Elementary, Lindsay Unified, New Haven Unified – California school districts for winning Race to the Top grants! The Race to the Top grants are not just about money, but also an acknowledgement of exceptional school districts with great leaders and teachers, great progress on student achievement and closing the achievement gap, adoption of great standards (Common Core) and assessments, a commitment to reform, turning around the lowest achieving schools, and leveraging technology and data to support instruction. 

  7. el on Dec 12, 2012 at 8:03 am12/12/2012 8:03 am

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    In each case, it’s quite a bit of money per student. I’m quite happy for these districts – but I am confused as to the long term strategic goals of these grants, given that even if the programs can be scaled, the money cannot.

    I look forward to hearing more about how these programs work out on the ground, both with the perceptions of students and parents and teachers and on-the-ground observers, and with the arms’-length metrics that are so in style at the moment.

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