Trick or Treat? Watch Out for RTTT Straw Men

Charter schools are thinking hard about whether to accept Race to the Top grants, wondering whether the requirements for teacher evaluation will represent a slide back to bureaucratic micromanagement. Advocates like Tom Carroll are right to ask this question. Charter schools have learned the hard way about the importance of protecting their operational autonomy, and at the Charter Center we’ve backed them at every turn.

In the case of this grant, we’re on the record recommending that schools do participate, because what the program requires for teacher and principal evaluation is critical work that charter schools have long promoted and should continue to lead. As Harlem Link Charter School founder Steve Evangelista put it in a must-read blog post this week, “from the charter perspective, RTTT should be our moment and we ought to seize it.”

Not everyone shares that opinion, and that’s fine. What’s unfortunateóand confusing for the entire charter sectoróis that not everyone is even sharing the same facts. So allow me to address some of the misinformation out there:

Does RTTT require participating charter schools to adopt the state’s evaluation system?

No. We’ve tried to correct this before, but the error persists. Charter schools are required to adopt elements of the state’s teacher evaluation lawóno small thingóbut not the entire law. The percentage of the effectiveness score based on state exams, for example, is not specified for charter schools. See p. 6 of the official guidance for the required elements.

Does RTTT prevent participating charters from firing bad teachers without taking certain steps? Does it compel participating charters to fire teachers after a certain period of poor performance?

No and no. Senior SED staff confirm that this requirement does not change, in any way, non-unionized charters’ ability to have at-will employees, including their control over decisions about whether or not to keep a particular teacher. Charter schools are required to “develop and implement an improvement plan for teachers receiving an unsatisfactory rating,” but that’s as far as it goesóand the content of the improvement plan is up to the charter school.

What charter schools aren’t allowed to do is simply keep Ineffective or Developing teachers around without giving them tools to improve. That’s an autonomy trade-off, but a very different trade-off than other bloggers have imagined.

Would RTTT turn participating charter schools into targets for “turnarounds”?

No. Charter schools continue to be accountable through their authorizers, and the state’s RTTT turnaround work only involves persistently low-performing district schools. See the note on p. 12 of the guidance document.

Again, participating in RTTT is not a simple decision. This is a complicated grant program that comes with significant conditions. To make informed decisions, however, schools need to separate the wheat from the chaffóand the scarecrows.

For more information, visit the program home page and our page of RTTT resources.