Nearly 900 districts nationwide, including 76 districts and charter schools in California, have told the federal government that they plan to compete for the final $400 million Race to the Top district competition. But with local unions having in effect a veto over their districts’ application, that number could dwindle.

It’s already starting. The executive board of Sacramento City Teachers Association voted last week to decline to participate, putting the kibosh on the district’s hope to join with Oakland Unified, San Francisco Unified, and two other districts on a plan to improve middle school math. The U.S. Department of Education is requiring that an application include the signature of the local union president as a sign that all parties will meet their commitments.

A sticking point, not surprisingly, is teacher evaluations. Among the Race to the Top requirements, districts must commit to enacting a teacher evaluation system within two years that gives significant weight to measures of student learning, including the use of state standardized test scores. With the Chicago teachers’ strike and the defeat in California of AB 5, a union-backed bill to rewrite the teacher evaluation law, fresh in their minds, teachers may not want to be pushed into an agreement on the long shot that their district will get a grant of between $5 million and $40 million, depending on their size.

After meeting with Superintendent Jonathan Raymond on Tuesday, leaders of the Sacramento teachers union agreed to begin discussions on a new teacher evaluation system. But they didn’t change their mind on Race to the Top.

In their statement listing their reasons for not joining the effort, they said they didn’t want to be “rushed” into a new evaluation system and they pointed to “Greatness by Design,” a report of state Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s task force on educators that deemphasizes “high-stakes testing and supports teacher development.” (Update: Raymond said today that the report’s recommendations would provide the basis for discussions with the union.)

Sacramento teachers are not alone. Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco, said that San Francisco teachers have not been included so far in planning for Race to the Top, with the deadline for applying six weeks away, and that teachers would not be inclined to reopen negotiations on evaluations. The current contract includes evaluations based on California Standards for the Teaching Profession, which Torlakson’s report recommends, and not “unreliable test data,” Kelly said.

San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento City are part of the nonprofit organization California Office to Reform Education, along with five other unified districts: Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sanger, and Clovis. Without teacher support, Long Beach has decided not to join Fresno in a two-district Race to the Top application. Last month, Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, expressed skepticism about participating in Race to the Top but also said he was willing to hear Superintendent John Deasy out. Los Angeles Unified intends to seek $40 million to expand career technical programs for high school students.

Two years ago, in the state’s first round of Race to the Top, the California Teachers Association discouraged local presidents from adding their signatures. CTA hasn’t taken a stand on the latest round.  In an email last week, CTA President Dean Vogel said, “Our folks want more information and we are trying to accommodate that need. Right now, we are unaware of any chapters participating.”

Superintendents have six weeks to make their case.


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