Race to the Top Grants Hit Evaluation Roadblock

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The U.S. Department of Education is raising concerns about New York State's ability to fulfill its $700 million Race to the Top grant.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a report released Tuesday that New York has made progress. But road blocks in implementing its reform plans means New York can choose to either be "a national leader or a laggard."

The state won the $700 million grant in 2010, in part, because it got its unions to agree to create a new teacher evaluation system that uses student test scores. But the state teacher's union has sued over that provision, arguing it relies too heavily on test scores. The local teachers union in won't go along either unless teachers get a new way to appeal their ratings.   

Another pot of money is already at risk because of the squabbling. The state has already held up about $100 million dollars for struggling schools in 10 districts including New York City because they didn't come up with a teacher evaluation system by the end of last year.

The state's education commissioner acknowledged there's still a long way to go to implement the reforms the federal government requires. Race to the Top is a four year grant so the funds don't appear to be in immediate jeopardy. But New York is one of only 3 states the federal government expressed concerns about in its review of the grants. The others are Florida and Hawaii, which is considered at a higher risk of losing its grant money.

State Education Department Commissioner John B. King aid in a statement that New York is successfully implementing several key aspects of its Race to the Top plan, such as adopting the Common Core standards and developing curricula, professional development resources and assessments aligned to those standards.

But King acknowledged development of data systems and agreements between school districts and teachers on performance evaluations are not on track.

"It's disappointing but not discouraging," King said. "We have to get this done, and we will."

Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the state's education department, local districts and unions to expedite negotiations to prevent the federal government from withdrawing the grant money. But he's stopped short of saying he'll personally get involved in negotiations.

With the Associated Press