Andy Ford: Florida again shutting teachers unions out of Race to the Top
In a memo to district school superintendents in May 2010, former state Education Commissioner Eric Smith wrote: ‘The positive discussions reinforced the shared belief that collaboration is critical for district ownership and implementation. Therefore, we approach Phase 2 with a stronger MOU (memo of understanding) and the united spirit necessary to earn the highest amount of funding available for our students.’ Things certainly have changed.
Federal officials repeatedly have warned states that ignoring the collaboration requirement would derail even the best of plans for helping struggling schools, yet Florida’s governor and new commissioner of education make no effort to involve teachers and their unions.
Recently, I learned that of the 12 Race to the Top grant states, Florida was one of three whose education commissioner and governor chose to exclude stakeholders from the ongoing discussions regarding the implementation of Race to the Top plan. The purpose of this meeting, scheduled for this Thursday and Friday, was to invite both states AND unions for a conversation with the U.S. Department of Education. But Florida and two other states did not comply and were still allowed to attend.
If the Department is holding states accountable for meeting commitments made in the RTTT applications on teacher evaluation, then it must also hold them accountable for commitments made about collaboration with unions. This steady erosion of the collaborative spirit that was established during the Race to the Top 2 application process may very well spell failure for Florida’s aggressive Race to the Top plans.
Florida’s road to winning the grant was extremely rocky. Florida lost its bid in the first round because of the lack of collaboration with the stakeholders, most notably FEA. Because of the efforts of former Gov. Charlie Crist to bring about collaboration, Florida was awarded a grant in the second round. But since Gov. Rick Scott took office and the appointment of Florida Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson, FEA and other stakeholders have been shut out of the process at the state and federal level without even the courtesy of one phone call or meeting.
When U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan first described the goals of the Federal Race to the Top grant competition, I was elated that attention and funding would be available to target those children and schools that needed the most help. Duncan also promised that this effort would be based upon collaboration between all education stakeholders: parents, school administrators, educators, school board members and the unions. To my dismay and disappointment, these promises of collaboration have been cast aside, and the Race to the Top grant has turned into nothing more than a feeding frenzy for corporate profiteers.
FEA and its local affiliates have worked diligently at the state and local level to facilitate the development and implementation of the Race to the Top plans. We are disheartened with the recent lack of communication and respect for the process that we had entered into in good faith. With 98 percent of the state’s share of the $700 million grant going to contractors, it has become clear that the initial goals of helping close the achievement gaps and helping our students succeed have gone by the wayside.