Race to the Top Deadline

Today is the deadline for charter schools to decide if they’re going to participate in the Race to the Top program. While participating has implications for charter school autonomy, as pointed out by several pro-charter organizations over the past few days, there are three reasons we think schools should sign on, as I detailed in a letter to the City’s charter leaders this morning.

”The first is pragmatic. As SED has made clear, it believes that having a teacher evaluation system that is based, at least in part, on student achievement is of critical importance. Accordingly it will make this a condition for approval of new charter schools and as schools come to renewal, a condition for renewal. Thus, schools that NYC DOE or SED have authorized will end up with this mandate whether they participate in RTTT or not. SUNY has yet to weigh in.

The second is also practical: most high-performing schools consider their evaluation systems for teachers and leaders to be incredibly important to their success. They also deeply believe that teachers and leaders should be rewarded for their success in improving student achievement. They are increasingly aware that a transparent system of evaluation based on as much objective evidence as possible provides a firm foundation for building trust and partnership among school leaders and teachers with all the benefits that come with such trust. Many schools, therefore, will only have to build on their existing systems, and schools that do have to make substantial changes may find it improves their performance and the school’s culture.

The third, and at least equally important reason to sign on, is the big picture function of charter schools. Charters have been and should continue to be at the vanguard of reform. (Charters) are the ones that are supposed to be showing the district the way.

For years now the sector has fought on a number of fronts to get districts to adopt the best practices of charters. And surely one of those best practices is getting schools to stop focusing on inputs and focus on outputsóstudent achievement. Thus, organizing an evaluation system around whether students are in fact achieving is critical to this endeavor. Now that local and state education officials, unions and legislators have seen the light and are requiring districts to adopt this practice, it would be the height of irony to basically say, it is good enough for them but not good enough for charters. If we as a sector turn tail on this, we give every opponent who wants to stop reform a great excuse to do so. The charter sector should be relentless removing excuses for change, not building them.”

Of course, we offer this guidance well aware of the fact that we don’t run schools and won’t have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of participating. It’s clear that for some charters, as well as some school districts, the burden won’t justify the small reward. But for the good of moving the sector forward and continuing to set the example so many are now looking to for answers, I think it’s an important step to take.

Read the full letter here.