Ohio Districts Turning Down Race to the Top Funds

Officials in some Ohio school districts have come to believe that the strings attached to federal Race to the Top grants make the money not worth receiving, The Columbus Dispatch reports. As a result as many as 80 districts and some charter schools have withdrawn from the program, in part because the money wasn’t sufficient to cover the costs associated with the grant requirements.

Even schools that have been accepting money for years are now having second thoughts, as the expense of developing a teacher evaluation system that would meet the standards set out by the grant program proved too much.

“We were spending a disproportionate amount of time following all the requirements,” said Mike Johnson, the superintendent of Bexley schools, which turned down the last half of a $100,000, four-year grant this school year. “It was costing us far more than that to implement all of the mandates.”

Teachers lost classroom time because they were stuck in training sessions aimed at familiarizing them with the new assessment regimes. The burden was particularly onerous on smaller schools who didn’t have the staff numbers nor the flexibility to allow this much time to non-academic pursuits. All in all, it was a long list of commitments for an amount of money that frequently added up to less than a percent of the district’s annual budget.

The goal of the grant program is to increase student achievement and raise the graduation rates for schools who commit to overhauling their testing systems in line with the approach championed by education reformers in the Obama administration. The Ohio grant – one of the 11 state grants to be given out – also comes with a condition that the new assessment system be put in place in the coming academic year, a full 12 months before the requirement kicks in for the rest of the state’s schools.

Some have been leery of the evaluations because half of a teacher’s performance is based on how much progress his or her students make in school. Worthington school officials haven’t decided whether they will accept the last quarter of their $520,000 grant, saying the new teacher evaluations would violate the contract between the district and its teachers union. Both Worthington and Bexley schools promised their teachers that they wouldn’t use the evaluations until 2014, giving them more time to prepare. They said it was unclear when they signed on to Race to the Top that they would be required to meet an earlier deadline.