Blog: The Educated Reporter

Race To The Top: School Districts Will Compete For $400 Million

The U.S. Department of Education sent out a rare Sunday press release yesterday to announce the next phase of the Race To The Top Grant program is underway, with individual school districts now able to apply directly for a share of $400 million in federal grants.

As the Politics K-12 blog reports, the rules have been heavily revised since the draft was first put out for public comment back in May, and more than 475 comments were received. I was particularly interested to note the provision requiring districts to have a mechanism in place for evaluating school board members has been scrapped. In a way that’s not surprising, given the vocal opposition by the individuals who would have faced a new level of public scrutiny. According to Politics K-12 blogger Michele McNeil, the Education Department still believes performance evaluations for school board members are a good idea but “they don’t think this contest is the place to get at it.”

It’s too soon to know whether school board evaluations will actually become a piece of the accountability puzzle. However, it’s hard not to find reasonable arguments why it should at least be part of the conversation, particularly for large urban districts where school boards set policy and oversee massive operating budgets. 

At the same time, it’s important to remember that many school board members receive only nominal compensation for the time they give to the work, and are the subject of scant voter interest during election season. It’s not a job that many people are willing to take on, and subjecting them to what they might consider an unfair evaluation process could dim enthusiasm for an already tough-to-fill position.

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