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.
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
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.