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NCLB Outrages

Race to the Top costs leave schools behind

Ohanian Comment: William Mathis provided definitive evidence that NCLB cost districts considerably more money than they received, but I'm not aware of a single district that acted on this evidence. Local administrators and state politicos love the headlines of a $5 million grant, making it sound like a handout from the Feds. And Gary Stern shows that with Race to the Top, the situation is even worse, much worse.

Not even professional organizations and certainly not teachers or parents, realize that we now have the Common Core because

1) Bill Gates wanted it;

2) States were so eager for the Federal money they signed on the dotted line for the Common Core while grabbing the money.

Look at Stern's example: South Orangetown got $23,366 from the Feds--and figure it will cost them #2 million over four years to meet the demands.

And that's only the money cost. You can't put a price tag on the psychic/pedagogical cost.

Keep reading. It gets worse.

by Gary Stern

Race to the Top, the Obama administrationâs ambitious but controversial education initiative, is turning out to be a major expense for local school districts at a time they can least afford it.

When New York applied for a piece of the highly competitive $4 billion program, school districts were told that most would get a share of the pot to pay for programs required by Race to the Top. In August, New York became one of 12 states to win the race and was awarded a maximum $700 million federal prize.

But of 54 districts in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, eight got no federal money. And 31 districts received grants of less than $50,000.

At the same time, school officials are finding they will have to spend significantly more --perhaps 50 to 100 times as much, in some cases -- to meet Race to the Top's demanding requirements. These include the rapid development of a new teacher and principal evaluation system that many educators oppose and preparation for the adoption of new national learning standards, known as the Common Core, by 2014.

"No one did the math," said Ken Mitchell, South Orangetown's superintendent. "Race to the Top was fast-tracked, and there was no discussion about the costs."

South Orangetown got a $23,366 piece of the state's Race to the Top pie and spent it in two days during the summer on administrator training, Mitchell said. But the district expects to spend almost $2 million over four years to meet the program's demands.

Most districts have not had reason to calculate their Race to the Top costs. Doing so is complicated because it involves not only training, software, textbooks and other tangible expenses, but the manpower hours put in by school officials who have to take time away from working on their budgets or other necessary tasks.

But South Orangetown and five other Rockland County school districts tried to quickly crunch their anticipated Race to the Top expenses and reached a startling conclusion. The six districts got $393,398 in Race to the Top money -- but expect to spend about $10.9 million on the program over four years.

âWe may have been conservative,â Mitchell said.

Also, eight districts in northern Westchester and Putnam counties recently tried to tabulate their costs and found they will have to spend about $3.3 million this year alone on Race to the Top. The eight districtsâ combined grants: $322,571.

âI would gladly give back our $6,000,â said Karen Zevin, school board president for Croton-Harmon, whose district actually got $6,909. âTake it right now. Our costs will just keep increasing.â

State Education Commissioner John B. King, who became commissioner in July and is an unequivocal champion of Race to the Top, did not want to hear concerns about costs during a visit to Westchester last month.

âIt is impossible to separate the cost of Race to the Top from the cost of what it takes to provide excellent education,â he told The Journal News. âWill there be a cost to the development of the Common Core standards? Sure. But thereâs a cost today to having many college students enroll in remedial classes.

âIt is our job to make sure our schools are effective,â King said. âWe need good teacher and principal performance and strong professional development. I donât think of them as the costs of Race to the Top. They are the costs of trying to continuously improve our education system.â

Many states fought hard to get into the program and become eligible for federal dollars. New Jersey faced national ridicule in 2010 when it lost out because of a clerical error. New Yorkâs application, prepared by King when he was deputy commissioner, won out.

âThe state wanted the money,â said Bryan Burrell, executive director of the Rockland County School Boards Association. âNow the districts have to make it work.â

New York was awarded $700 million, half of which was allocated to school districts using a federal formula that calculates student need. New York City got $256 million out of $350 million. The other half of the overall federal grant is for state-level activities.

New York had to commit to several federal priorities, including new standards and tests related to the Common Core; a new teacher and principal evaluation system that takes into account studentsâ test scores; updated data systems to measure student performance; and an openness toward charter schools.

The new evaluation system has proved to be one of the most divisive issues in the state. Districts are having difficulty working out the details through collective bargaining, as required by state law. But the federal government is threatening to take back the Race to the Top money if progress isnât made, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is promising to step in.

From the start, there was little talk about the costs facing school districts trying to create a complex new evaluation system on the fly, said Jere Hochman, superintendent of Bedford schools, who serves on a state task force that tried to figure out how to make the whole thing work.

The new evaluations must include extensive observations of teachers in classrooms, which requires training, preparation, written critiques, follow-up plans and more. Districts also must develop an appeals process for teachers who disapprove of their ratings -- which could lead to high legal costs.

"Appeals could be a huge expense, through the roof," Zevin said.

Hochman said some task force members wondered early on whether affluent districts would produce more meaningful evaluations than needier districts.

"There is concern that districts with means will be able to take a more ambitious and authentic approach to evaluation, and those without means will be constrained to use more economical lockstep and standardized approaches," he said.

Many districts were apprehensive about what Race to the Top would cost them in time and money. But nearly all signed a voluntary agreement to support its goals as they saw that the state was committed to going for the federal dollars.

âYou could see that the federal resources would be foolâs gold,â said Louis Wool, Harrison superintendent and president of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents. His district got $29,260. "The costs of implementing Race to the Top are astronomical and dramatically outstrip what districts are receiving. And we are sadly talking about having to spend money on new teacher assessments that most educators do not think will improve the performance of teachers."

Brian Butry, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said board members statewide were worried about what Race to the Top could mean.

"You look at the number of changes districts are being asked to make in a very unstable financial environment, and you see why many people thought it wouldn't be worth it," he said. "Now the state is getting the money, laws are on the books and districts have to move forward."

Florida also got a $700 million Race to the Top award. School districts were eager to get federal money in a state that has suffered more than most economically, but many are concerned their costs will exceed their grants, said Ruth Melton, director of legislative relations for the Florida School Boards Association.

"Everyone's initial reaction was that this won't be close to enough money, but cash-starved school districts are loath to give up revenue," she said. "We'll have to see if districts have enough money to implement their plans."

— Gary Stern
The Journal News


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