Parish schools opt not to join the Race to the Top

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, January 27, 2010

VIDALIA — When the Louisiana Department of Education released its official Race to the Top application Monday, the Concordia Parish school system was not one of the 28 participating school districts.

Race to the Top is a federal education program that will allow schools to compete for grant funding based on certain selection criteria determined by the program.

Concordia Parish School Superintendent Loretta Blankenstein said the district officials reviewed the information and polled the school administrators about the program, and ultimately decided not to participate in it because the program guidelines are too vague.

Email newsletter signup

“Some of the requirements are not fully established, and you don’t know what you will have to do to get the money and what you will have to do to keep the money, or even how many years you will have the money,” Blankenstein said. “When you sign your name on that line and you commit to doing something, you like to know everything involved.”

The district would not want to start new programs and hire employees to work with those programs only to have the funding pulled after a few years, something Blankenstein said happened to the school district when state funding to certain programs was cut recently.

“What happens in two or three years when the money is no longer there and you still have these people working for you and they have bought cars or houses?,” she said.

“It is kind of hard to get into these programs and make these commitments when you don’t know if these commitments are going to stand.”

Fifty percent of the teacher evaluation from the Race to the Top program would come from student test scores, but Blankenstein said she was concerned since the plan doesn’t say which tests would be used as a measuring stick.

“We’re not sure if it will come from state tests or if it will be value added, and if it is, who will make those tests?” she said.

The program also has a requirement to restructure low performing schools, and Blankenstein said that in this case restructuring means removing the principal and all of the teachers from a low-performing school.

“If we took everybody out of a school, it would hard if not impossible to replace those people,” she said.

The school district is currently working with schools to use Title I funds to make some changes, Blankenstein said.

“We are doing that, but we know what is required and what we will have to do to maintain these programs,” she said. “We were really unsure about making a commitment for funds and personnel when we were unsure of the guidelines. When you’re dealing with public funds, you don’t want to commit to something you’re uncertain about.”