To be eligible for a portion of $200 to $400 million in Race to the Top money (that is, if Ohio wins ??? and we have doubts), Local Education Agencies (LEAs) were required to submit memorandums of understanding (MOUs) to the Department of Education by last week.
Emmy speculated awhile ago that Ohio, unlike states with more contentious applications, might see hundreds of LEAs signing up. This might threaten to diminish the intention of Race to the Top, as spreading funds far and wide across the state would result in very few dollars with which districts could make any real changes.
With the list of participating LEAs finalized this week, these fears are warranted. Over a third (250) of Ohio's 613 districts signed the MOU, including many large urban districts -- Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Akron. (It's a shame that Dayton and Youngstown, two of the poorest and lowest-performing districts in the state, decided to sit this one out.) Of 332 charter schools, 187 signed on to the provisions of Race to the Top.
In terms of student enrollment, the discrepancy between districts and charters schools is stark. If Ohio wins a portion of Race to the Top funding, 46 percent of students enrolled in district public schools will attend a school eligible for the money, compared to 72 percent of students enrolled in charter schools.
That more charter schools than districts signed on to Race to the Top is unsurprising. Many of RttT's most controversial provisions challenge teachers unions to rethink the way teachers are evaluated, paid, retained, and granted tenure. This has been a sticking point for national, state, and local unions alike, and since the vast majority of charter schools are not unionized, they are better positioned to make dramatic changes that promise to improve student achievement. This is a lesson in and of itself: if Race to the Top can spur changes to teacher-related policies (including hiring, firing, compensation) and this has a tangible impact on student achievement, Ohio may need to rethink its attitude toward collective bargaining agreements that burden districts from adopting the kind of dramatic reforms embodied in RttT.
-Jamie Davies O'Leary and Eric Ulas