Friday, July 31, 2009

Is California ready for "Race to the Top"?

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell
Comments on "Race to the Top"
SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today issued the following statement regarding President Obama's launching of the federal "Race to the Top" competition, which allows states to compete for $4.35 billion in education funds if they fulfill the competition's criteria.

"Without question, 'The Race for the Top' fund will be one of the boldest and farthest-reaching efforts to implement meaningful reform in our nation's schools in generations.

"The over-arching goals of the education community must be to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps, and I applaud the Obama Administration for making these two points a focus of their education reform efforts.

"While every one of our states is unique in the needs of its students, as a nation we must make a united commitment to a number of important, core philosophies, including increasing effective teaching, developing globally competitive standards and assessments, turning around low-performing schools and improving data systems to become continuous learning systems that guide decision making.

"As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I am wholly committed to ensuring that California is actively engaged in this national conversation. And so, I look forward to joining Governor Schwarzenegger and the State Board of Education in working with the President and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to move forward this ambitious agenda for change.

"Of course, as with any push for significant change, there will be legitimate concerns. Certainly, these guidelines call for some hard decisions by California educators and policymakers, and while this is not an easy conversation to have, it is the right conversation to have.

"While I generally agree with the intent and the focus of the proposed guidelines, there also are some specific areas with which I disagree. Specifically, I would like to point out what I believe to be a misunderstanding about the law surrounding our data systems. California law does not prevent any school district from using the state's student assessment results for purposes of evaluation or compensation. It only prohibits the use of this data to evaluate individual teachers at the state level. This is simply a matter of local control that appropriately ensures school districts handle their own personnel decisions.

"Regardless of this disagreement or any others, I look forward to beginning this effort to effectively communicate our thoughts and any potential changes to the guidelines over the next month."

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