The Department of Education has made it clear that the grants – which will only be doled out to 10 to 20 states in the first round – will go to those states that are aligned with certain priorities, including an openness to charter schools, a willingness to connect student achievement to teacher performance, a commitment to tough standards, improving data collection, and using effective turnaround approaches for failing schools.
With money scarce, the funds have become highly sought, both for the money and the status they could confer in anointing certain states as education leaders.
“I’ve been doing federal education policy for 17 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Charles Barone, director of federal policy for Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that has been tracking states’ efforts. “Usually it’s exactly the opposite: Money gets sent out, and then the federal government tries to compel states to do what they made a commitment to doing.… There’s been more state legislation [around education reform] in the last eight months than there was in the entire seven or eight years of No Child Left Behind, in terms of laws passed.”
In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed the legislature to remove a firewall prohibiting the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers back in October. The new set of reforms that the legislature was expected to approve Tuesday was even more controversial, and includes an open-enrollment measure that would allow students in the lowest-performing schools to apply to other schools anywhere in the state, including in their own district.
It would also give a “parent trigger” provision, in which 50 percent of the parents in a low-performing school could force districts to adopt major reform plans, including closing the school, firing the principal and up to half the teachers, or turning it into a charter.