Comment of the United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries in Response to the Rules Posted on Race to the Top Federal Stimulus Grants

From:   Jan Resseger

            Minister for Public Education and Witness

            United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries

            700 Prospect Avenue

            Cleveland, OH   44115-1100



August 26, 2009


The proposed Race to the Top strategy should be redesigned to improve struggling public schools. These guidelines will not accomplish that goal.


(C)(2) With myriad variables affecting student achievement it is dangerous and unfair to tie teacher salaries to standardized test scores. Also, this merit pay plan may encourage teachers to seek positions in wealthy districts where children encounter fewer barriers to learning.


(C)(5)Yes, test data should be turned around quickly to improve teaching, but other reforms are needed to support educators and improve high-need, high-poverty schools, including basics like small classes, and social workers and counselors with workable case loads.


(D)(2)(i),(ii)Yes, state laws should be strengthened to hold charter schools accountable, but do not require states to lift caps on the number of new charters unless and until charter schools are better regulated.


(D)(3) School improvement strategies in the last bullet of this section should be prioritized rather than restructuring and governance changes. Although staff reconstitution has improved schools in some instances, it has often proven difficult to rebuild the school community. Conversion to charters or contracting with Education Management Organizations has too often failed to improve schools. Closing schools contributes to undesirable churning of students whose families are already likely to be very mobile.


(E)(2) These rules reward states that maintain overall investment in public schools; rules should also reward greater equity. You propose continuing to overlay No Child Left Behind’s sanctions and compliance strategy on extreme resource inequity. The federal government should allocate resources for equity and also use its power to pressure states to expand the opportunity to learn before punishing struggling schools. In a country where children neither start at the same place nor play by the same rules, justice cannot be served by attention to outcomes alone.