It’s Race To the Top Day

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Today the US DOE will announce winners of the federal competition in education reform. Andy Smarick at Flypaper is placing odds if you’re a betting man.

Here in New Jersey we’re watching from the stands. On Friday Ed Commish Bret Schundler blamed the leadership of NJEA for squashing NJ’s chances. Here’s Schundler:

I was disappointed the grant application put in by the Corzine administration failed, but I was not surprised. For a state’s grant application to be approved, the Obama administration requires that local school and teacher union leaders commit to support the initiative’s objectives. The application for funds put in by New Jersey had phenomenal support from local school board presidents and superintendents, but very little from union leaders. This doomed New Jersey’s application and cost our public schools hundreds of millions of dollars. The reason the New Jersey Education Association encouraged local union leaders not to support Obama’s program is that it requires grant-receiving school districts to take student learning into account when evaluating the performance of teachers. The union fears that school districts will judge teachers unfairly.

He goes on to “implore” NJEA’s leaders to support NJ’s resubmission in June. Now we’ll place some odds: slim to none unless NJEA can maneuver out of its fighting crouch and stand up tall, a reversion possible only if Gov. Christie and Comm. Schundler can give it a hand up by offering some face-saving measure. Lay-offs, threats of pay freezes, the 1.5% of base pay to health benefits: Pres. Keshishian and her cohorts are assailed from all sides as they suddenly are cast as villains instead of heroes in NJ’s public education soap opera.

How to amend the plot to encourage redemption and collaboration, followed by buy-in to RTTT? It all depends upon whether the Governor and Commissioner can see their way clear to toning down the rhetoric (which, admittedly, is working fairly well for them right now) and offering Keshishian a route out of the morass that casts a rosy hue on NJEA’s leadership. How badly does the new DOE want that RTTT money? Bad enough to stretch out a hand to NJ’s fiscal Darth Vader? Bad enough to stay true to essential principles – teacher accountability, expansion of school choice, improved data systems – yet bend a bit around the edges?

Update: Winners are Delaware and Tennessee. Some snarking about the fact that US Ed Sec Arne Duncan recently praised Republicans Lamar Alexander and Mike Castle — who happen to be from Tennessee and Delaware respectively — for supporting reauthorization of ESEA. More relevant, perhaps, is that the two states’ RTTT applications had total union buy-in.

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