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Draft Race to the Top regulations would ban New York State

The Obama administration’s proposed regulations on a $4.3 billion federal fund for schools would block New York State from receiving any of the money, according to a draft copy of the regulations that I obtained today.

States that block schools from using “data about student achievement” to evaluate teachers would be banned from applying to the fund, called the Race to the Top grant, under the proposed regulations. (The ban is written in a tricky double-negative way, saying that only states that don’t have such a law are eligible to apply for grants.)

The regulations define “student achievement” as “a student’s score on the State’s standardized test,” for subjects that are tested. For subjects that aren’t part of federally required testing regimes, states can propose an alternative measure, including scores on quizzes known as “interim assessments.”

New York State law prohibits principals from using student test scores when deciding whether to give a teacher tenure or not. The law was passed last year after private lobbying by the state teachers’ union, and against loud objections from the Bloomberg administration.

A spokesman for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Peter Cunningham, confirmed the language in a brief phone call just now. The draft regulations will be released publicly at midnight tonight, Cunningham said.

The Race to the Top fund is a tiny slice of the $97.5 billion federal stimulus package for education, meant to spur innovation. Obama administration officials have indicated they will use the fund to steer states and local school districts towards policies federal school officials support. Duncan and members of his administration have mentioned policies banning the use of student test scores and caps on charter schools as likely targets.

The proposed regulations would leave a window for states such as New York to receive the Race to the Top dollars if they revise their education laws in the next year. The regulations outline two phases of grant-making, one accepting applications “in late 2009” and the other in “mid-late Spring 2010.”

The second phase is designed for “States that need more time — for example, to pass legislation, engage stakeholders and secure commitments, or develop thoughtful plans,” according to the draft regulations.

The draft regulations would also give preference to states that meet other policy priorities, such as by agreeing to pursue national curriculum standards and by not limiting the number of charter schools. But the regulations would not bar states that do not meet those criteria from applying for Race to the Top money.

Before warning against applications by states with specifically policies, Duncan singled out New York State and New York City as good candidates to apply to the fund. He said the city’s school policies fit into the wider purpose outlined for the fund, which is outlined in four categories: “standards and assessment, improving teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution, improving collection and use of data, and supporting struggling schools.”

A former head of the city’s accountability office, James Liebman, is now tasked to the special project of writing an application for the grant.

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