School District prepared to ‘Race to the Top’


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The Iowa City School District will participate in President Obama’s Race to the Top grant program, which could land Iowa’s Department of Education up to $175 million.

Iowa City is one of 221 school districts in the state that have agreed to take part.

“We wanted to become a part of the change in education,” said Iowa City Superintendent Lane Plugge.

Plugge and School Board President Patti Fields signed a memorandum of understanding with the state, agreeing to uphold “specific roles and responsibilities” if the state is selected.

Those include redesigning how students learn and developing new learning environments, said Associate Superintendent Jim Behle.

School Board member Tuyet Dorau noted that, though she didn’t agree with everything on the memorandum, she and the rest of the board members felt the pros outweighed the cons.

“With anything there are going to be some negative things,” she said. “But we have the option of withdrawing if anything changes that we do not agree with.”

Gov. Chet Culver signed the bill on Jan. 13; it was the first bill he signed during the 2010 legislative session.

“We are very excited about what this might mean for education reform and allowing Iowa to continue to lead the way in terms of educational excellence,” he said in a press release.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan discussed the Race to the Top grant competition during a conference call on Jan. 19, in which he said the most important goal is getting unanimous support from the adults in the community.

“What we’re looking for isn’t just the unions but every adult collaborating to help students be successful: teachers, parents, school board, etc.,” he said.

Dorau said she doesn’t see gaining support as an issue, noting that a large portion of the Race to the Top requirements are in line with Iowa Core Curriculum, which officials are implementing throughout the state.

Though Iowa City choose to participate, 141 Iowa school boards refused to join in the Race to the Top. A common argument against the program is that it grants the federal government too much control of the education system.

Despite the concerns, Dorau said, she feels the program will still preserve local control.

“I think it would just give us a better national standard,” she said. “We are all looking for how to reach the same goal: how to best educate our kids.”

Forty states and Washington D.C. submitted applications for Race to the Top. The federal government plans to select the states eligible for the grant in April.

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