SFUSD may refuse federal funding if strings attached 

The San Francisco Unified School District is expected to sign up to receive federal funding under President Barack Obama’s new Race to the Top initiative, but Superintendent Carlos Garcia said it would pull out of the program if it’s reform measures are too strict.

“[If] they want to go strictly by the letter, then we may not be interested,” Garcia told The Examiner Tuesday.

Obama announced the $4.3 billion program in July as an incentive to advance academic reforms and improve schools that aren’t meeting school test-score standards.

District officials say it’s not clear how much funding The City’s public schools could receive from the federal program. State education officials say California could secure up to $700 million.

Nearly 800 districts in the state have said they wish to participate in the voluntary “Race” program, by sending in a memorandum of understanding. Districts have until Friday to send in their MOUs to the state, which has a Jan. 19 deadline to submit an application to participate in the competitive federal funding program.

The federal initiative is based on four “pillars” of reform: standards-based benchmarks; improving and retaining quality teachers and principals; using data systems to measure improvement; and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

Expected reform measures include connecting teacher evaluations to student performance, replacing principals and staff at underperforming schools, converting campuses to charter schools, reforming the teaching methods at a school or closing a school.

Additionally, families with students at the state’s worst schools could transfer to those with stronger academic performance, and parents in struggling schools could also petition for the district to make drastic changes aimed at improvement.

Garcia said the district is already familiar with such efforts.

“The biggest problem with the four pillars is that none of those are that new. I was here in the ’80s when they reconstituted schools. If all that worked so well why do we still have an achievement gap?” he said.

The California Teachers Association has opposed some of the reform measures; The City’s local teachers’ union echoed some of the organization’s concerns.

“Doing all this for one-time money that’s a fraction of a percent of our budget is asking for a lot. It’s no replacement for properly funding our schools,” United Educators of San Francisco spokesman Matthew Hardy said.

Board of Education commissioners are meeting Thursday to make a final decision on the district’s memorandum of understanding.

 

Reform rules

The four pillars of the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund, a national education reform competition that states and districts can choose to enter:

—Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace

—Recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals

—Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices

—Turning around the district’s lowest-performing schools

Source: U.S. Department of Education

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

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Kamala Kelkar

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