NTU key factor in Race to Top

Two years ago, we didn’t mince words when we called out the Nashua Teachers Union for helping to sabotage the state Department of Education’s bid for millions of dollars in federal Race to the Top education reform funding by refusing to sign off on its application.

We were particularly incensed when NTU leadership cited insufficient time to review the 16-page memorandum or to schedule a vote on it prior to the filing deadline among its reasons for withholding support.

Instead, 11 other states – including Massachusetts and Rhode Island – and the District of Columbia were chosen by the U.S. Department of Education under this competitive program to share $4.35 billion in education reform money.

And while it certainly would be unfair to blame the NTU for the state’s failure to secure some of this money – only 23 percent of the state’s teachers unions backed the state’s bid – it’s clear the lack of support from the state’s second-largest city played a role in why New Hampshire placed 38th out of the 40 participating states and D.C.

So you can imagine our delight when we learned last week that the Nashua School District – with the NTU’s support – had been named one of 61 finalists for $383 million in Race to the Top’s district competition.

That money is expected to be carved up into 15 to 25 grants of between $5 million and $40 million. In Nashua’s case, the district applied for $26.7 million to be used to improve technology and to personalize education to ensure students are better prepared for college or the workforce upon graduation.

We have no doubt the NTU’s support was critical to Nashua being among the finalists chosen from 372 applicants to the Race to the Top program, which was established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Across New England, only four of the 36 school districts to apply made the final cut: Boston; Bridgeport, Conn.; Hartford, Conn.; and Nashua. In New Hampshire, Claremont, Keene, Littleton, Pittsfield and Winchester were among the 18 school districts that applied.

So what persuaded the NTU to support the district’s bid this time around?

As reported by education writer Danielle Curtis this week in The Sunday Telegraph (“Union’s OK key to grant / District feels cooperation a reason for finalist pick”), there were several reasons for the change of heart, according to NTU President Bob Sherman:

• Changes in the makeup of the district’s grant-writing team that gave union representatives greater input in the final application language.

• An agreement that, should federal officials request alterations to the district’s application in awarding the grant, the school board and the NTU would be able to vote on whether to accept the money.

• Additional money targeted for stipends, peer coaching positions, professional development and other activities.

• And, perhaps most important, an understanding that the union would play a major role in any discussions linking teacher evaluations to student performance – one of the more controversial aspects of Race to the Top.

Whatever the rationale, we commend the NTU for dropping its earlier objections and instead working collaboratively with school officials to craft a grant application worthy of finalist consideration.

While it’s no guarantee the Nashua School District will be named one of the winners later this month, the application never would have gotten this far without the teachers union’s support.