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New York City won’t get federal funds to “personalize learning”

If New York City wants to expand its use of technology to tailor instruction to students’ individual needs, it will have to do so without special federal funding.

The city was not on the list today when the U.S. Department of Education named the winners of its Race to the Top-District competition, aimed at rewarding districts that “personalize learning.”

One reason: The city Department of Education did not supply requested information about its budget.

The city had been one of 61 finalists in the competition, which netted nearly 500 applications from school districts and consortia of districts from across the country. It had asked for $40 million to expand and augment existing initiatives, including the Innovation Zone, and build innovative schools from the ground up.

Applications were scored by independent reviewers according to stringent rules set out by the U.S. Department of Education, and New York City’s application got high marks in most categories. The reviewers lauded the city’s vision, its prior record of success making major changes, and its analysis of where and why a move toward personalized learning would be useful.

But it lost points because the city did not outline a clear timeline for carrying out the plans, show how the funds would benefit all students, or demonstrate that it had gotten buy-in from community partners with which it promised to collaborate.

The reviewers also gave the city zero out of five points in a category about transparency. Applicants were asked to provide the details about school-level spending on teacher salaries, other personnel, and other expenses.

But the city declined to provide the budget information. “For a variety of policy, labor relations, and privacy reasons, the NYCDOE does not currently make [that information] public or available on our website at the individual level of detail,” the district’s application says, according to the reviewers’ report.

The reviewers concluded, “The NYCDOE does not provide a high level of transparency in … processes, practices, and investments, including by making public, by school, actual school-level expenditures for regular K-12 instruction, instructional support, pupil support, and school administration.”

The transparency loss accounted for half of the gap between the city’s final score, 186 points, and the score of the lowest-scoring winner. Ultimately, the city’s application came in 43rd: high, but not high enough to bring home any funding.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who supported the city’s funding application, said the reviewers’ comments backed up the union’s criticism that the Bloomberg administration has allowed some education department data to be released, such as teacher ratings, while keeping other data out of public view.

“Now the DOE’s refusal to share public information with the public has cost the city $40 million,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement that the department would “consider the feedback” if the U.S. Department of Education offers another round of Race to the Top-District fundings.

The 16 winning applicants cover 55 districts in 11 states and Washington, D.C. A handful of large districts did win, including Miami-Dade County and a consortium that includes Seattle. Other winners include smaller districts in North Carolina, a consortium of 23 districts in Kentucky, and D.C.’s branch of the KIPP network of charter schools.

One New York State district is sharing in the winnings. The Middletown Enlarged School District, which enrolls fewer than 7,000 students in seven schools, will get $20 million to lengthen the school day, introduce “blended learning” classes that mix online and in-person instruction, and create an early intervention system for high-need students, according to the comments on its application.

Several applications were not even considered because they did not meet eligibility requirements. Los Angeles’s application, for example, was canned because the city submitted its application without sign-off from its teachers union.

New York City has benefited from Race to the Top funding before. New York State won $700 million in the first contest to overhaul teacher evaluations, add more charter schools, bulk up teacher preparation, and develop a statewide data system.