The decision of Georgia’s Jones County to forgo Race to the Top funds sparked discussion across the country. As the Jones
County superintendent told the AJC, the sticking point was the mandate that local partnering districts establish performance pay plans.
“My philosophy has always been that from the front door to the back door, from the secretary to the lunchroom worker, [everyone] is responsible for the student achievement of every child,” Jones County School Superintendent Bill Mathews told the AJC. “We set our goals and if we meet our goals, we all celebrate.”
The school system had already signed onto the state’s Race to the Top application when Mathews assumed the superintendent’s job. He expressed reservations about the implications of the grant and his school board concurred. “If other people can make it work, I’m really happy for them,” he said.
Jones County is not the only place in the country having second thoughts about its commitment to Race to the Top.
In Ohio, 50 of the initial 538 districts and schools that were part of the state’s Race to the Top application have dropped out, foregoing their local share of the state’s $400 million award.
In some cases, the local entities cited concerns about the time and work involved, said Michael Sawyers, the state’s assistant superintendent of education. In other cases, they couldn’t muster the necessary agreement between the school board, union, and top school administrators over how to count student academic growth in teacher evaluation, as is required in Ohio’s plan. Local collective bargaining agreements, Mr. Sawyers noted, complicated the work in some communities.
Some Ohio schools opted out simply because they were about to close their doors permanently, Mr. Sawyers added, and so taking part in Race to the Top for a few months made no sense to them. Many of Ohio’s local participants were approved conditionally, meaning they’ll need to make modifications in order to continue taking part in years two through four of the program, said Julie Daubenmire, a spokeswoman for the state department of education.
Despite the drop-outs, Mr. Sawyers described state officials as “ecstatic” about the degree of local buy-in, given the challenges involved.
In Florida, which won a $700 million Race to the Top award, 65 of the state’s 67 traditional school districts had initially agreed to take part in the state’s plan, and 62 have committed to continue, said Tom Butler, a spokesman for the state’s department of education, in an e-mail. The state’s winning application, among other features, includes a new model of evaluating and paying teachers, and gives local school systems some leeway in crafting those schemes.
Three districts—in Dixie, Hamilton, and Suwannee counties—have opted out. As is the case in Ohio, a number of Florida school systems received conditional approval from the state, Mr. Butler explained, meaning they will be asked to fix aspects of them.
In Massachusetts, 276 school districts originally had signed on to the state’s winning, $250 million proposal, but 19 have dropped out, leaving 257.
On the one hand, among the school systems that asked out of the state’s plan, concerns about the costs of implementing it were the “dominant calculus,” said Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of education. Many of those participants, he noted, were slated to receive small amounts of federal money—in some cases $20,000 or $80,000—and some would have received nothing.