Carroll to Charter Colleagues: Just say NO!

Thomas Carroll, one of New York’s leading charter school directors, has just sent out a memo to fellow charter network operators in the Empire State urging them NOT to participate in Race to the Top.  New York won a second-place finish in the second round of the competition last August—and with it nearly $700 million.

Carroll says that the red tape that comes with the money is not worth it for charters. “After reviewing the administrative, regulatory, and reporting burdens required of schools that participate, and understanding how seriously the program jeopardizes the administrative and operational independence of charter schools especially in the area of teacher/principal evaluations and accountability,” Carroll writes, he has advised the 11 schools in the Brighter Choice Foundation network, which enroll 25 percent of all public school students in the state’s capital, not to take RttT funds.

Carroll says that RttT efforts “undoubtedly represent a significant step forward for traditional public schools,” but those same efforts represent “a step in entirely the wrong direction” for charters, which are free not to participate in the federal funding program.

Some excerpts from Carroll’s “risks of race to the top” memo:

The requirements and regulations imposed upon charter schools to received grants from New York’s Race to the Top programs seriously jeopardizes administrative and operational independence, particularly with regard to teacher and administrator evaluations.

New York’s grant process poses a risk to charter schools’ operating flexibility due to its teacher and principal evaluation requirements and new burdensome reporting requirements.  New York’s RttT reforms focus on implementing teacher and principal evaluation tools that drive hiring, firing, and tenure decisions, and schools that desire RttT funds must agree to implement the state’s new RttT teacher and principal evaluation system which in turn threatens charter schools’ ability to maintain hiring/firing autonomy.

The new teacher/principal evaluation system required of all charter schools choosing to accept RttT funds will generate a single, composite teacher effectiveness score.  Forty percent of the composite effectiveness score must be based on student performance, and 60 percent on teacher effectiveness, based on eight criteria. The forty percent student performance piece will be comprised of 25 percent student growth on state exams.  This new system is to be “a significant factor in employment decisions (i.e. tenure, promotion, retention).

Currently, all charter schools are exempt from this requirement.  If a school signs the RttT “Scope of Work,” however, it would be required to implement the state’s teacher evaluation tool.

Carroll does warn that “refusing the RttT funds could be perceived negatively by the state education departments and executive and legislative branches” and that “charter schools now could be seen as sending a message that `we don’t want to be part of your system.’”

We shall see.

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