New Haven Unified wins Race to the Top grant; Oakland wasn’t in the running

new haven unifiedNew Haven Unified in Union City is one of 16 winners of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant. (More information about the district competition here.)

My colleague Chris De Benedetti reported this week that the district will get $29.3 million during the next 4 1/2 years for summer programs, academic coaches, smaller classes for high school English learners and other strategies to improve its schools.

Like in some other large urban districts, including Los Angeles Unified, Oakland’s teachers union didn’t sign on to the proposal in progress, citing concerns about a lack of specifics and a sense that the agreement would replace negotiations at the bargaining table.

So OUSD didn’t apply. It had been told its chances of winning would be nil without its teachers on board, district spokesman Troy Flint said.

In a Sept. 24 letter to Troy Christmas, director of labor relations for OUSD, Oakland Education Association President Trish Gorham wrote that the union had only recently learned about the grant writing, giving it little time to work out the details before the October deadline. She expressed other concerns, too:

We have grave reservations about the funding terms and conditions of this grant. In particular, we are concerned that the grant requires the development of data systems that do not yet exist to track students for five (5) years after graduation. We question whether such systems can be developed in a timely manner and at a cost that is sustainable under the grant.

I’ll post Gorham’s final letter to Superintendent Tony Smith below. Do you understand and agree with the union’s concerns, or do you think the district should have gone ahead and applied?

OEA letter to Oakland superintendent

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • coding error

    so they prefer not to apply, among other things, because the chances are low (reason 4)? What a loser argument.
    Now, if you tell me that the reason (at the heart of the reform) is that Duncan wants teacher evaluations tied to scores…
    Anyway, who thought that the union was an obstacle(ever!)?

  • J.R.

    Obstacle? The union? What does history tell us?

  • http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com David B. Cohen

    There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Race to the Top, and yet when I look at New Haven, I find myself optimistic about their part of it. I would encourage readers to stay open to both viewpoints, which I tried to capture in this blog post that quotes both the New Haven union president and a skeptical school board member from the Bay Area.

  • Katy Murphy

    Great background and insights, David. Thanks for that link to your post!

  • Observer

    How can there be a race without losers? What a concept to apply to education.

  • Doug Appel

    Thank you, David, for a worthwhile contribution to the ongoing discussion around this issue.

  • 1day at a time

    OEA rationale for not doing for Race to the Top, let’s look at their letter to Tony Smith:

    1. May cost the district far more than the money received from the grant

    Comment. This seems like common sense. Was OUSD applying for a grant that would have been a fiscal negative? If so, that’s truly embarrassing. How much was the grant and how much would it have cost? On what was Gorman basing her projections? If tiny New Haven got 30 mil, I’d expect more from ousd.

    Verdict: If true, great point for union to bring up. Saves money for kids.

    2. Lacked time to sufficiently develop systems that are not yet in place.

    Comment: This is pathetic because it presumes a basic level of incompetence – from all parties. Smart people on both sides should be able to figure things out under most time frames. Their commitment to the task would reflect the time frame and size of opportunity. The union, the district, and/or Katy should not leave us hanging on this: what were the systems that needed to be created, and what was the time frame needed to implement.

    verdict: Horrible. In David Cohen’s blog, he chronicled how a district/union had a basic agreement or MOU but hadn’t finished creating the system yet… And they got the grant. If both sides wanted to make it work, saying “There’s not enough time to develop the system” seems uninspired at best and obstructionist at worst.

    3. Replace negotiations at the bargaining table with a grant writing process

    Comment: This is unconscionable.

    Verdict: This “adult issue” , overrides what’s best for kids. The union is thinking about how this process will impact their contract negotiations. That’s reasonable since they’re a labor union, but the public needs to wake up to the fact that the kids are second fiddle in a system that’s suppose to serve them.

    4. Had a low probability of success.

    Comment: WTH?

    Verdict: This is a ridiculous assertion. By nature, the grants process offers no guarantees. This should not keep someone from trying. When you’re acting on behalf of children, it’s your duty to try and overcome the odds.

    5. Committed OEA and OUSD to an uncertain path for a number of years

    Comment: Well now, the current situation is so bad that whatever the “certain path” is doesn’t sound appealing to most rationale people. The district is strapped for cash and the finances don’t look to be getting any better, but you don’t want to try for Race to the Top. Let me guess, I’ll be asked to support some new bond measures that increase salaries and pay for new buildings. That’s for certain!! OEA will ask me to take off work so they can go on strike. That’s for certain. Status quo isn’t working for most kids, that’s for certain.

    Verdict: This rationale is about adults, not kids. “Uncertain path for OEA and OUSD” does not address what’s best for kids. Sad.

    6. At its heart, made assumptions about teaching and learning and assessment that did not align with our understanding of best practices in these areas.

    Comment: Finally, something about learning!! Was the district asking the union to agree to something that’s not good for learning? What did they want? This seems like a substantive agreement that the public should be informed about. What is the unions understanding about best practices in these area?

    Verdict: Disputes about learning and the best practices to make it happen can be healthy. Since this disagreement apparently cost Oakland’s children millions of dollars, shouldn’t both positions be made public. This is a public district, right?

    #1 and #2 seem focused on children. The other points seem more about adults. That’s a problem.

    We should learn more about more about Mr. Christmas (What a name). Thank goodness somebody in this process has the courage to voice concerns about kids.

    Question, so as not to unfairly attach this to everyone, did the OEA members vote on this decision. Are teachers on board with this? We have to assume that their leadership is acting on their behalf, so this really lies at the feet of teachers. They are responsible for what OEA does. Teachers are responsible for OEA’s position and how it impacts our children.

    Trish Gorman appears to be the most powerful person in Oakland, California.