District Race to the Trough Is Off and Running

sheep-feeding-troughThe Department of Education announced last week that it is accepting applications for District Race to the Top funds.  They have allocated $400 million for the program with a $25 million award cap.

The grading system has changed compared to what was originally proposedEducation Week reports what the new contest rules and grading system consists of:

In addition to meeting the 2,000-student threshold, to be eligible to compete a district must also implement evaluation systems for teachers, principals, and superintendents by the 2014-15 school year.

Districts must also address how they will improve teaching and learning using personalized “strategies, tools, and supports.”

In fact, this personalized learning component makes up 40 points on the 200-point grading scale. The rest of the grading scale is:

  • Prior academic track record and how transparent the district is (such as if it makes school-level expenditures readily available to the public), 45 points;
  • “Vision” for reform, 40 points;
  • Continuous improvement (having a strategy and performance measures for long-term improvement), 30 points;
  • District policy and infrastructure (such as giving building leaders more autonomy), 25 points;
  • Budget and sustainability, 20 points.

Ten bonus points are available for districts that collaborate with public and private partners to help improve the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students.

After districts firm up their applications, states and mayors must be given 10 business days (up from 5 days in the proposed rules) to comment on the proposals. However, the contest rules don’t require districts to make any changes with the feedback they’re given.

There are questions as to how many districts will actually apply because there’s just not much there to tempt districts with, as Education Week asks:

With the original $25 million award cap, Los Angeles Superintendent John E. Deasy has said that the department was asking a lot for a relatively small amount of money. And officials from rural districts, which can band together and apply as part of a larger consortia, have said they may not have the resources to apply for a complex federal grant.

So will the department’s changes be enough to spur a lot of interest?

American Association of Christian Schools also points out in their weekly email, “The Washington Flyer,” the anemic response to the program:

According to one official at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, response to the program has been “anemic” since there is far less money available through this version of RTT. Rick Hess, esteemed Education Week contributor, noted that in a smaller area like Washington, D.C., the potential award would equal only 2-3% of the annual education budget. Furthermore, he noted that while some education officials would be pressured to apply for the funding, others would be slow to craft costly and comprehensive reforms when the potential award amounted to 1% or less of their budget.

It may costs more districts than what they’re receiving all for the privilege of being further beholden to the Federal government.  They may run to the trough to find that it is rather empty.