Comment from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University

Comment from the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University

 

 

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

Attention: Race to the Top Fund Comments

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW , room 3W329

Washington, DC20202

 

                                                                                             August 26, 2009

                                                                                             Re: RIN 1810-AB07

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

 

I am writing to submit the comments of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University to the Proposed Regulations concerning the Race to the Top Fund that were published in the Federal Register on July 29, 2009. The Campaign seeks to promote equity and excellence in education and to overcome the gap in educational access and achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged students throughout the United States.

 

Based on our extensive research and experience in this area, we believe that to overcome current achievement gaps and to allow all students to succeed in school a comprehensive approach to educational opportunities must be developed to tackle head on the barriers to learning that result from the conditions of poverty. To provide these students a meaningful educational opportunity requires not only access to critical school-based educational resources like high quality teaching, a rich and rigorous curriculum, adequate facilities, and sufficient, up-to-date learning materials. It also must include  important out-of-school resources in areas like early childhood education, physical and mental health care, after school and summer services and family support.

 

For this reason, the Campaign endorses the basic points and recommendations set forth in the comments submitted by the Coalition for Community Schools, which articulate the reasons that the draft regulations should be modified to emphasize more clearly the importance of providing all children, and especially children from low-income families, a comprehensive educational opportunity. In addition, we write separately to  stress the need for the regulations to ensure that all students in every school can be assured of the basic human and material resources necessary for academic success. We thus emphasize the following specific issues.

 

1.      Proposed Priority 5: Invitational Priority: School Level Conditions for Reform and Innovation. (Page  37806). [1]

 

We agree with the Coalition for Community Schools that school-level conditions for reform and all of the strategies used to turn around struggling schools should be defined clearly to ensure that all of the comprehensive learning opportunities necessary for school success are in place. As stated above, these should include essential in-school resources and services as well as the critical out of school resources and services students need to obtain a sound basic education. In schools that

serve primarily low income and minority students, it simply cannot be assumed that adequate basic resources as well as the comprehensive resources needed to provide these students meaningful educational opportunities are in place and the provision of all of these resources needs to have the force of law behind it.

 Based on the specific constitutional rulings of a large number of state supreme courts in the education adequacy litigations and the extensive research on children’s needs, the following resources and services are necessary for school-level reform to succeed, and the regulations should be amended to include each of these items:

 

  1. high quality early childhood services and assistance in the transition from early childhood programs to elementary school programs;

 

  1. instruction by highly effective teachers;

 

  1. essential school services such as appropriate class sizes, rich and rigorous curricula, up-to-date textbooks, libraries, gymnasiums, laboratories and computers;

 

  1. extended school day and year and before and after-school and summer programs that expand learning opportunities through academic, social, cultural and recreational enrichment.

 

  1. counseling, pupil services and mentoring services;

 

  1. appropriate programs and services for English language learners and students with disabilities;

 

  1. parental/family support and involvement;

 

  1. access to the arts, sports, service, internships and other civic opportunities;

 

  1. coordination and integration of federal, state, and local services and programs, including programs provided by local nonprofit agencies, including but not limited to health services and health programs, nutrition programs, early childhood services, housing programs, adult education, vocational and technical education, violence prevention programs and job training;

 

  1. planning, coordination, management, and oversight of an appropriate range of services at each school to be served, through the school principal, a school-based coordinator, and partnerships with community based organizations, parent groups, and other community entities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.      Maintenance of Funding Efforts: Proposed Application Requirement (c) (page 37807)[2]

 

The proposed application requirements include a provision calling upon the states to provide financial data indicating that state financial support for elementary, secondary and higher education increased or stayed the same for FY 2009 as compared with FY 2008. Presumably the purpose of this requirement is to ensure that the state maintains or increases its relative funding commitment to public education even in this time of fiscal constraint. We strongly agree with the need to emphasize continuing state financial support for children’s rights to a quality basic education. For this reason, we believe that data should also be required to demonstrate a continued state funding commitment for FY 2010. Since the Phase I Race to the Top applications will not be due until the late fall or winter, and the Phase 2 applications will not be due until the spring, sufficient data will be available on the enacted budgets for FY 2010 for states to supply this information.

 

3. Selection Criteria (C)(1): Providing Alternative Pathways for Aspiring  Teachers and Principals (page 37809)

 

We applaud the fact that the proposed regulations use the result-oriented terms “highly effective teachers” in place of the term “highly qualified teachers.” Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the later term has, in effect, meant that many teachers who have met minimum state certification requirements, but are not truly qualified to teach children with high needs, disproportionately staff our inner city and rural schools. State Reform Condition (C) (1) encourages the use of alternative pathways for aspiring teachers and principals, but it does so without including any substantive mechanisms for ensuring that the candidates who pursue these alternative pathways will have sufficient knowledge and training to become truly effective. As written, these provisions may, in fact, undermine rather than enhance, teacher and principal effectiveness.

The definition of “alternative certification routes” (page 37811) should, therefore, be amended to require all such programs to ensure that teacher candidates have deep subject matter knowledge, substantial understanding of children’s developmental psychology, a thorough grounding in the state’s academic standards and proficiency requirements, and a demonstrated ability to meet effectively the instructional needs of children from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural environments.

 

                                                                        Respectfully submitted,

                                                                       

                                                                        Michael A. Rebell,

                                                                        Executive Director and Professor of

                                                                        Law and Educational Practice

                                                                                   



[1]  The same comments and recommendations apply to Selection Criteria (D)(3) “Turning around struggling schools.” (page 37810).

 

1.      [2] The same comments and recommendations apply to Overall Selection Criteria (E2) “Making education funding a priority” (page 37810)