Photo by Xugardust / flickr.com/photos/xugardust/5935194606

Photo by Xugardust

If they awarded points for effort, Fresno Unified would get two Race to the Top grants.

After a marathon meeting that concluded early Friday morning, Superintendent Michael Hanson and leaders of the Fresno Teachers Association agreed on wording of the district’s application for a $37.3 million piece of the $400 million competition open to districts nationwide.

It had looked like Fresno would join Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento City and Long Beach, members of a district collaborative, the California Office to Reform Education (CORE), whose unions had refused to give their required consent for the submission of an application, primarily because teacher evaluations using standardized test scores had to be an element. But Hanson used a three-day deadline extension, which the federal Department of Education granted districts because of disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy, to keep trying to persuade the Fresno Teachers Association to say yes. Pressure mounted, as community leaders, two city council members, business leaders, and a group of ministers called on Teachers Association president Eva Ruiz to sign on.

So now Fresno will join Sanger Unified and Clovis Unified in a joint application, as the only three of eight districts participating in CORE’s  effort to pursue the last round of Race to the Top. Because they are promising to work together and share their findings with other CORE districts, the three are also asking for a supplemental $2 million.

“We are thrilled that CORE districts successfully submitted Race to the Top applications and will be able to compete for these critical funds. The Fresno Unified plan to improve literacy in early grades and the CORE submission on behalf of Sanger and Clovis to improve middle school math performance will have huge benefits for the students in these communities and throughout the CORE consortium,” said Rick Miller, executive director of CORE.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy submitted LAUSD’s application without the signature of United Teachers Los Angeles president Warren Fletcher, in a symbolic gesture. “I want to make the case that here in Los Angeles, after months of trying repeatedly to form a partnership for youth and faculty on this issue, our students should not be penalized due to the absence of a UTLA signature,” said Deasy.

A key to reaching an agreement that has eluded other districts is that the application downplays the use of standardized test scores as a component of an evaluation. Fresno cited as its model the recommendations of Greatness by Design, the new report by Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Task Force on Educator Excellence. It recommends multiple measures of student achievement, including scored essays or projects created by teachers, schools, or districts; and results on Advanced Placement tests and tests directly tied to the curriculum being taught.

Fresno’s application had generated strong community interest in part because of its focus on pre-kindergarten to third grade literacy development. Among the uses of the money, Fresno Unified proposed to double attendance in preschool, from 42 percent to 80 percent, in a city among the hardest hit by the economic recession. Money would also fund extensive teacher training and collaboration time. With the Race to the Top application stressing attention to personalized learning, Fresno would integrate technology into classrooms, providing high-tech tablets to students.

Hanson said that the district had worked with teachers on the application from the start, but the union complained that it had not seen parts of the 235-page application until the deadline and had problems with the evaluation requirement.

The competition for the money will be intense for an expected 15 to 25 grants, with possibly hundreds of districts nationwide competing. The list of California districts applying may not be known until next week. The deadline for states directly affected by the hurricane is Nov. 7. California’s deadline was 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time Friday.

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