Seattle's News Elixir

Despite falling short on some of President Obama's requirements for education reform—like charter schools and uniform evaluations of teachers—Gov. Chris Gregoire has a savvy strategy to get funding from Race to the Top, Obama's $4 billion pot of education grant money for competing states.

While some top contenders for the money, like Florida, submitted plans that seem tailor-made for RTTT, they're missing a key component: Support on the ground. It's one thing for a state to say it's going to meet all of the federal standards, but that pledge for reform starts to look like a ruse to the feds when they see that local teachers and unions and parents at the district level aren't playing along.

So, as Washington gears up to make its case to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Gregoire is doing little organizing. With a plan that's more friendly to unions and local districts—evaluation standards will be determined district by district—Gregoire sent out a letter on April 7 to local education leaders  trying to get the local superintendent, the local school board, the local union, and a local principal to sign off on the the state's application plan. Washington State may not have the most radical plan—but we may have the most practical chance of nudging toward the reform ideals.

"We think a significant criteria for the states is to demonstrate that the policies in their applications are not just words on paper," say Gregoire spokesman Viet Shelton, "but that they can be implemented on the ground, meaning you need buy-in.”

Education advocates who want more transformative changes, like the League of Education Voters, are also going local.

As Chris Kissel reported last week, reformers were outmaneuvered at the state level by the teachers union during this year's legislative session when the union was able to derail sweeping reforms in teacher evaluations. The union's compelling argument against the evaluation reforms? One size doesn't fit all.

After losing the battle for statewide evaluation standards, the reformers—either calling the union's bluff or following their advice—are taking the education reform agenda to the local level by trying to ensure that upped evaluation standards play a role in district contract negotiations.

The teachers union, widely viewed as an impediment to reform, has actually kicked off a rush of organizing on the ground from both sides of the debate. This can only be a good thing for education reform.
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