Saturday, August 29, 2009

A History of Ignoring Smart Kids

Take the time to read this. Authors Loveless and Petrilli have contributed so much to the effort of improving schools, and they knock it out of the park with this New York Times piece:

The New York Times: Smart Child Left Behind (08/27/09)

It is this very topic that motivated me to become involved in education: I don't believe my public school adequately challenges all children.

I have been attempting to fight this shortcoming my entire time on the school board, beginning four years ago with my
nationally recognized study on Advanced Placement in Michigan, up to the recent post on “Academically Waterboarding Middle School Math Students.” There are numerous examples of this deficiency chronicled on this blog under the heading RIGOR on the right.

As of the time of this writing, Rochester Community Schools still has no district initiatives whatsoever to insure that all children are adequately challenged. I have pushed at every opportunity to spotlight this fact, but unfortunately the best that I’ve been able to achieve is some weakly worded generic language in a list of un-measurable district goals.

While the school board is to blame, the ultimate root cause is that parents have not communicated any expectations to their school board, and do not hold them accountable when examples are provided of school board failures.

Until parents and other stakeholders take the time to let the school board know that they have high expectations for their children – and refuse to accept generic board answers – we can only expect more of the same.

==> Mike

Here is the article in case the link does not work:

New York Times
Op-Ed Contributors
Smart Child Left Behind
AS American children head back to school, the parents of the most academically gifted students may feel a new optimism: according to a recent study, the federal No Child Left Behind law is acting like a miracle drug. Not only is it having its intended effect — bettering the performance of low-achieving students — it is raising test scores for top students too.

This comes as quite a surprise, as ever since the law was enacted in 2002, analysts and educators have worried that gifted pupils would be the ones left behind. While the law puts extraordinary pressure on schools to lift the performance of low-achieving students, it includes no incentives to accelerate the progress of high achievers.

Yet the new study, by the independent Center on Education Policy, showed that more students are reaching the “advanced” level on state tests now than in 2002. This led the authors to conclude that there is little evidence that high-achieving students have been shortchanged.

If only that were so. But like many miracle-drug claims, this conclusion is deeply flawed, for several reasons.

First, under the federal law, state tests are supposed to measure whether students are meeting grade-level expectations — whether the average third grader knows the mathematics taught through third grade. But high achievers usually work above grade level, so the state tests are very poor instruments for measuring how well top students are learning.

Second, the way the study’s analysts depicted state trends creates a misleading national picture. They calculated “trend lines”
in each state — for example, whether more fourth graders in Georgia reached the “advanced” level in math, whether they made gains in reading and so on for each grade and subject.

For their conclusions, they added together all the up, down and sideways trends to give a national snapshot, saying that 83 percent of trend lines showed gains, while 15 percent showed declines. The problem with this system is that it treats all states equally, regardless of size. So a gain among high-performing students in North Dakota has the same weight as one in California, which has more than 60 times as many students.

Third, the analysis does not compare today’s students with those of earlier eras. High-achieving students might be making incremental progress — but is this new? If they were making similar gains before 2002, then might recent progress have nothing to do with No Child Left Behind? And how did their progress compare with trends for lower-achieving students?

Thankfully, there is a more suitable tool to help answer such questions: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tracks achievement changes in 4th, 8th and 12th graders across the country. It found relatively little progress among our highest-achieving students (those in the top 10 percent) from 2000 to 2007, while the bottom 10 percent made phenomenal gains. For example, in eighth-grade math, the lowest-achieving students made 13 points of progress on the national-assessment scale from 2000 to 2007 — roughly the equivalent of a whole grade. Top students, however, gained just five points.

We also learned something from the data from the 1990s. For the most part, both high- and low-achievers made tepid annual gains. But there was one exception: In the states that already had accountability systems similar to those that would eventually be required by No Child Left Behind, there were much larger gains at the bottom than at the top.

So what does all of this mean? It is clear that No Child Left Behind is helping low-achieving students. But it is also obvious that high-achieving students — who suffer from benign neglect under the law — have been making smaller gains, much as they did before it was enacted. Alas, this drug is producing no miracles.

No doubt, some will claim victory: We are closing the achievement gap between our top and bottom students! But is that our only national goal in education? What might happen if federal law encouraged educators to improve the performance of all students? Our analysis of the federal data identified tens of thousands of high achievers who are black, Hispanic or poor. They are excelling at their studies, often against great odds. Shouldn’t we be addressing their educational needs?

As we look for ways to improve No Child Left Behind, we must recognize that our top students still have much to learn.

Tom Loveless is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the task force on K-12 education at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Michael J. Petrilli is the vice president for national programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

State of Denial

Oftentimes it's a sad truth that someone on a self-destructive path never really hits bottom until they experience that one defining moment that makes them wake up to the reality that they alone are the cause of their own problems.

School boards live in that state of denial.

In Rochester, for example, the school board has not passed a balanced budget in any one of the five years I served on the board. Each year a majority of board members were OK with approving a budget with deficit spending. The board made some cuts this year – half of which came from cutting the pay of bus drivers and custodians by 25% -- but the board was still unable to balance the budget. The district is pondering a $12 million dollar deficit next year.

Yet somehow the board is receptive to the idea of paying $10,000 to hang a historical mural in the boardroom.

Granted, the $10K isn’t going to materially change the budget picture. But the message it sends is very clear.

And it leaves one wondering what other types of non-essential or non-productive spending is going on.

Perhaps State Superintendent Mike Flanagan offers a glimmer of hope, now that he finally put his foot down on school board budgeting nonsense. I wonder how the lesson learned here might be able to be applied on a broader basis.

The Madison School District in Madison Heights Michigan has apparently been working on a deficit reduction plan since 1994, yet cannot produce a balanced budget.

Let’s ignore the fact that it’s a 1500 pupil district, and one of two small districts in this suburban community, and could undoubtedly save money through consolidation (of district operations, not schools).

The more illustrative point is that they’ve been unable to solve this problem for 15 years!

And amazingly, when the state superintendent finally threatens to hold them accountable, they are able to come up with a plan.

But of course, the school board lives in denial, blaming others for their problems.

Perhaps the silliest comment came from the district’s attorney, who said, “Lansing doesn’t understand the fallout those (budget cutting) options can have for generations to come. The board is looking a more methodical change over time.”

How much time? Since this deficit problem first started, there have now been two or three classes of kids who started out in kindergarten and have since graduated!

And talk about “generations”… the education of the children in the district NOW will be impacted because of the failure of the board to address the deficit over the past 15 years.

Given the legislative bumbling that goes on at the state level, I’m not convinced that Lansing is the ideal answer. But the current status quo – your local school board – clearly demonstrates time and time again that local control is out of control.

Here are a couple of links on the Madison situation:

Detroit Free Press: Deficits have Madison Heights board members facing jail time (8/18/09)

Oakland Press: Madison District Avoids Payless Paydays (8/25/09)

Deficits have Madison Heights board members facing jail time


Faced with an unprecedented threat of jail and fines by the state's top educator, school board members of the Madison School District in Madison Heights passed a plan Monday night aimed at averting the penalties.

The plan, to offset a $1.35-million deficit, rests on tentative agreements with the district's unions and other workers to accept a 5% overall cut in human resources for the next three years. The savings would come from a combination of pay and benefits cuts, job reassignments and lower head count achieved through retirements and resignation -- without layoffs, board attorney George Butler said.

"This will be sent to the Michigan Department of Education," on Tuesday "and will await the response," said district Superintendent Gary Vettori.

The district has been operating under a state-approved deficit elimination plan since 1994.

Last month, Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan sent the board a letter indicating that if the district didn't submit a revised budget by Thursday, "it will be prudent for me to invoke one or more of the penalties" that include jail and fines.

If the penalties were imposed, it would have been the first time a school board endured jail and criminal fines allowed under a state law on fiscal responsibility, said state Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis.

The state has withheld more than $800,000 in aid from the total of $9 million allocated to the district for 2008-09, Ellis said.

Board members, who recently gave up their $30-per-meeting pay, said they were stunned by the threats and doing all they could to keep afloat the district of fewer than 1,500 students.

Workers have made repeated concessions and Vettori took a 5% cut to $114,000.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Refocusing Energy!

Five years on a local school board has delivered a lifetime's worth of lessons on what is best & worst about 'local control'.

By helping to shape the dialog and direction, I believe I’ve had a positive impact on our schools. My focus at the board table, my personal advocacy efforts with the public, and my voting record clearly demonstrates my commitment to the merits of increased rigor, fiscal responsibility, safety, and transparency.

I’m proud of my efforts to make schools accountable to parents, students, and taxpayers, but have concluded that the opportunities to achieve these goals are limited on this local school board.

The forces attempting to preserve the status quo are powerful, committed, and far superior in numbers. Actually, school boards mirror the polarizing political climate at the state and national level, where a dominating majority controls the agenda and offers no room for compromise.

On Tuesday, I entered my name as a candidate for re-election, hoping that one or more new candidates might emerge that could stand with me in my efforts to reform and improve our schools, and prepare for the challenges ahead.

But at this point, with the candidate field now defined, I’ve decided to withdraw my name and refocus my energy. Armed with my knowledge of the system, and freed from the petty politics, I believe I can be more effective in my efforts to increase public awareness of the issues facing schools, while continuing to attempt to introduce ideas to school leaders.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

To Rubberstamp or Compromise, that is the question!

I had received enough FACEBOOK invitations requests that I finally decided to setup an account. If you haven’t done so, you should! It’s very active, although it can be very distracting. Mine's here.

Anyway, in the process of searching for friends I stumbled across a few fairly recent articles about my friend Melanie Kurdys, a Board Trustee in Portage Michigan.

Mlive: Portage school board: Same song, new verse (06/01/09)

Mlive: Tensions linked to trustee aired during Portage school board retreat (07/15/09)

Melanie is an outstanding trustee, one who works tirelessly to reform an education system that is simply not very effective by any measure. I wrote about her efforts to address the fact that many high school graduates must take remedial math in college. The article can be found here.

She’s being exposed to the same complaints many reformers face, which is that she should simply sit at the table and vote “AYE”.

I posted these two articles because they provide great insight into the ugly world of school politics.

The articles are sad because they show a clear divide in the district. You can read the comments posted on the newspaper site, and see there are those who root for the majority, and those who root for the underdog. It should not be a contest, at least not like this.

Unless that board majority can learn to compromise, then the community will stay divided and ultimately the children will lose.

The articles focus on the tired old debate about whether a trustee should actively understand an issue before voting, or whether they should instead simply rubber stamp whatever is put in front of them.

This is exactly the problem we have in Washington right now, where the Obama Administration wants Congress to pass bills without reading them.

I fail to understand the logic in the rubber-stamp approach. If the administration’s proposals cannot withstand a little scrutiny, then maybe they shouldn’t advance them.

And if a majority of board members don’t want to understand what they are approving, then they are free to change policy so that the administration has more leeway and the board has less oversight. Or, they can conduct offline study sessions or sub-committee meetings, where the administration can make its case to those board members who are interested in understanding the issues before they approve it.

But instead, this Portage board whines about Melanie asking reasonable questions. They call it “micromanaging”. They hope to bully Melanie into capitulation.

Furthermore, they offer the absurd claim that, “You're holding almost the whole school district hostage." How is that possible if they have a 6 to 1 majority? They are free to ignore Melanie, as is done when the autocratic board President Shirley Johnson says, "We're moving on." (That's happened to me several times, where board members have been OK with "Calling the Question", which according to Robert's Rule ends discussion.)

So why exactly is this an issue for the Portage board?

Because Melanie goes against the cultural grain of their "social club", which expects members to not only go along, but go along happily and quietly.

Melanie is doing neither. She asks intelligent questions – questions the board cannot ignore – and they resent her for that.

But it's more than just petty resentment. The heart of the problem – and I see this whenever you have a reform-minded trustee on a school board – is that the status quo majority doesn’t compromise. Either they don’t know how, or don’t want to.

If they don’t want to, well, then that’s the end of the story.

But I often wonder whether school board troubles are caused by the fact that trustees don’t know how to compromise.

So here are some suggestions for Portage:

1) Believe that compromise is important. Board trustees like those in Portage offer an interesting logical conflict. They have the majority, and can do whatever they want. But that is not enough for them. They not only want to have it their way, but they don’t want anyone to complain about it. If they truly want to eliminate the complaints, then they need to forge solutions in which everyone has some skin in the game.

2) Stop viewing issues in isolation. If a particular item only has an “either/or” option, then try to couple a few items together. This might allow for a little “give and take”, which is the fundamental ingredient in compromise. You might never get all trustees to support everything, but if each trustee is satisfied that the compromise is in some way advancing an objective they find important, then you are likely to see a substantial reduction in the volume and frequency of objections.

3) If it’s clear that there is substantial disagreement on an issue, then consider tabling it for a meeting, in an effort to find some common ground (see suggestion 1 & 2 above!).

Many school issues have no “right or wrong” answers, but are instead more a matter of perspective or philosophy. This leads to messy school politics, and that is not likely to change. However, the present practice of the majority exerting absolute rule without regard to compromise is a proven loser.

I've pasted below the articles in case the links don't work.

==> Mike.

Portage school board: Same song, new verse
Posted by jmack June 01, 2009 23:04PM
Are we surprised that things got a bit tense during Monday's Portage school board meeting?


Are we surprised the squabbling was sparked by whether Melanie Kurdys, in the opinion of her fellow board members, was trying to micromanage?

No again.

It's a familiar pattern. And, incidentally, another interpretation of the tussle is that Kurdys was asking questions in the interest of accountability and transparency, only to be slapped down by her colleagues.

I report. You decide.

First, Kurdys asked about the proposed traffic pattern for the new Central High School, which has been repeatedly criticized as unsafe by Portage resident Bob Schafer. Superintendent Marsha Wells and others told Kurdys that state and city officials had signed off on the traffic plan, but Kurdys said she wanted to see the paperwork herself, saying it was possible that state officials had approved the plan while expressing reservations. When Trustee Dale Posthumus suggested, in effect, that Kurdys overstepping her bounds, she said she was willing to file a Freedom of Information Act request if need be.

Then came a discussion about the brickwork for the new Central High School. One of the bidders was upset his bid had gotten rejected, and the construction managers said it was because the project called for extra-large bricks and they wanted to go with a firm experienced with making that particular size. Kurdys suggested that perhaps the real problem was the design of the school, and questioned the use of the extra-large bricks, saying her research found those kind of bricks can lead to leakage around windows.

The other board members seemed openly exasperated, saying they weren't going to second-guess the administration and the building contractors about the school design at this point. "This is not a board-level decision," Vice President Jennifer Whistler said. "If we get into this, we're opening a can of worms."

Then came Round Three, when the board was briefed on a proposal for technology for the new Twelfth Street Elementary. Kurdys said that perhaps installing new technology for teachers at the new school is a big mistake, considering that the staff already will be adjusting to a new building, a new student body and a new districtwide math curriculum. Plus, Kurdys questioned if the new technology would actually improve student outcomes, and how the district would collect data to establish that fact.

At that point, the other board members didn't even pretend to hide their annoyance. "To say, 'Why are we doing this?' is to revisit a decision made a year and a half ago," board President Shirley Johnson said. "We're moving on."

Tensions linked to trustee aired during Portage school board retreat
Posted by Julie Mack Kalamazoo Gazette July 15, 2009 22:47PM

KALAMAZOO -- A Portage school-board retreat on Wednesday resembled "Survivor" crossed with C-Span.

In the midst of a day spent talking about policy governance, the seven trustees on the Portage Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Marsha Wells engaged in a frank airing of grievances and a candid discussion about board tensions.
Six trustees, including two who have been on the board for less than eight months, suggested the board was being paralyzed by the actions of the seventh trustee, Melanie Kurdys.

"I have to say, in my 36 years of professional life, I've never seen one person so totally dominate an organization," said Trustee John Whyte, who joined the board in December. "This is a nonfunctioning board, and we don't get things done, Melanie, because all of us are too busy trying to satisfy your wants and your needs. ... You're holding almost the whole school district hostage."

Kurdys, who was elected in 2007 on a platform of transparency and accountability, considers herself the board watchdog, making frequent requests for information and seeking public input on school-district matters large and small.

During the two board meetings in June, for instance, Kurdys questioned the traffic-safety plan and choice of bricks for the new Portage Central High School, the installation of state-of-the art technology in 12th Street Elementary, which is to open next month, and various budget issues.

Other trustees said Wednesday that they appreciate her perspective but not her approach. They criticized Kurdys for micromanaging administration; monopolizing board discussions, leaving little time for others to talk; launching surprise attacks at board meetings; and making public comments that undermined fellow trustees and administrators. They also said she often resurrects old disputes, preventing the board from moving forward.

For her part, Kurdys said the board has a history of trying to silence dissent. "Individuals who see things differently than the majority either end up quitting or leaving bitter," she said. "It seems like this board spends a lot of time trying to control me."

Trustee Randy Borden, who was elected in May, said he ran for office without taking sides but that he already sees why other trustees are displeased with Kurdys.
He said he was startled, for instance, that during last month's vote on the district's budget, that Kurdys turned to the audience and said, "No one is accountable for this budget." Borden said the comment left the impression that the administration and board are not to be trusted.

"The grandstanding that goes on at meetings is continuous," Vice President Dale Posthumus said to Kurdys. "It seems at every turn you're taking some opportunity to make the school district look bad."

Kurdys said she is raising important issues. "Do you really think I'm intentionally trying to find things wrong in the district?" she said. "Why would I do that?"
She said, however, that she appreciated the honesty of her fellow board members in addressing the "elephant in the room."

"I see the pieces I need to do to be more effective in getting my ideas into the room," she said at the end of the retreat.

Prodded by facilitator Mike Washburn, a retired superintendent from Forest Hills, Kurdys and other trustees agreed to several procedures to help ensure board meetings stay focused and respectful. For instance, when a board member brings up issues that others feel are not board-level matters, they agreed they will decide as a group whether to discuss them or move on.

At the end of the seven-and-a-half-hour retreat, trustees agreed the meeting was helpful and offered optimism.

"I see the change in the atmosphere already," Secretary Deb Polderman said. Then she added, "but we've said that before."


Sunday, August 2, 2009

MEA contractual “firewall” blocks assessment data

Interesting article from the left coast:

LA Times: Obama chides California for not using test scores to evaluate teachers (07/25/09)

It spotlights a bizarre and well-entrenched failing of the education system: the reluctance – even resistance – towards the use of data when evaluating teachers.

This debate has been escalated by a new federal program called “Race to the Top”, which is described in The Economic Times:

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has announced a race for $4.35 billion in federal grants to improve academic achievement and reverse a decline in American public schools to meet increasing competition from countries like India and China.

"In an economy where knowledge is the most valuable commodity a person and a country have to offer, the best jobs will go to the best educated, whether they live in the United States, or India, or China," Obama said announcing the competition Friday.

"In a world where countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, the future belongs to the nation that best educates its people," he said in an address at the Department of Education. "We have talked about it for decades but we know that we have not made the progress we need to make."

Dubbed the "Race to the Top," the competition aims to ease limits on charter schools, which receive public funding but generally are exempt from some state or local rules and regulations, link teacher pay to student achievement and move toward common US academic standards.

A good discussion can be found in this education trade magazine article:

Eduweek: 'Race to Top' Guidelines Stress Use of Test Data (07/23/09)

The use of data in decision-making is a major component of this effort, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this concept plays. It’s a common sense concept, but one that is counter-culture in education, and is clearly opposed by teacher unions.

Some (many?) educators are opposed to the use of data analysis, instead believing the data comparison is not fair because each student is unique. Another common argument is that students may know the material, but simply not be able to demonstrate mastery in a structured test environment.

I don’t want to be completely dismissive of those concerns, but they fundamentally suggest that the teacher alone should the sole judge of whether the teacher has been successful, ultimately making them accountable to, well, only themselves.

The “Race to the Top” will force discussion of this topic because it includes grant money – the mothers milk in education – and it’s guidelines will likely exclude states like California and New York, which bar the use of data in evaluating teachers.

While Michigan (and most other states) don't specifically bar the use of data in evaluations, the real roadblocks are established at the local level.

In Rochester, for example, meaningful data is scarce, especially at the secondary level. Teachers don’t use common assessments, meaning that there is no common measuring tool within the district, or even with a building. The effort and achievement required to earn a “B” in one teacher’s class might’ve gotten a student an “A” or a “C” with another teacher. This hardly seems fair, and it inherently prevents effective and objective comparison.

There is a district-level effort in Rochester to move towards common assessments, but it’s reportedly meeting strong resistance. Like most things in education, it’s moving at a glacial pace. The progress is not clear, and the outcome is far from inevitable. It calls into question how serious the district really is about the use of data in decision-making.

It’s sad news, given the potential benefits.

At a minimum, it would insure that achievement in a class would be measured by common standards, and not the unique standards of an individual teacher. An “A” in a particular class would mean the same thing within the district, regardless of which high school or which teacher bestowed it.

Furthermore, common assessments would provide building leaders and district leaders with a macro view of curriculum success, and provide insight on where the district should concentrate efforts on improving instructional resources or professional development.

Consider an example where six teachers of varying experience levels, in different buildings, administer a common assessment, and most of the students tested fail to demonstrate mastery of a particular concept. Those results
would serve as an indicator that the district curriculum specialists need to better support the teachers by focusing attention on that particular concept.

But apparently those benefits are outweighed by the risk that the data might reflect poorly on certain teachers.

In that same example, consider if five out of six teachers consistently achieve comparable results, and the remaining teacher consistently performs below far below those other five. This data alone would not suggest that the one teacher is ineffective, but it would certainly serve as a red flag.

Having common assessments – and common achievement data – would inherently establish achievement norms for teachers, and is presumably one of the primary reasons it’s unacceptable to teacher unions.

Whatever the reason, this common sense use of data goes against the grain of education norms, and opposition to the use of data remains a significant plank in the MEA platform.

In Rochester, the union has a built-in “firewall” in the teacher contract designed to “protect” teachers from data. Section 8.21 of the contract states, “If teachers who teach the same course administer common assessments, there shall be no comparisons of classroom assessment results reflected on any teacher’s evaluation.” Furthermore, in a “Memo of Understanding” addendum, the concept is expanded beyond evaluations when it goes on to stipulate, “There shall be no comparison of classroom assessment results reflected on any teacher’s evaluation or provided to any parents.”

Unions contend, as summarized by AFT president Randi Weingarten, that student test-score data should be used primarily for informative and instructional purposes. In other words, we want to specifically avoid using measurable data to set expectations and hold teachers accountable.

I cannot imagine that philosophy being acceptable in any other profession.

Rather than confront this head on, some suggest a more pragmatic approach. They argue that teachers feel threatened by data, and that introduction of data into their evaluations will only strengthen opposition. They maintain that data needs to become integrated into the education psyche in a more natural, evolutionary way.

That argument may have some merit, but on the other hand it’s reasonable to wonder if this is simply too much coddling. How long are we supposed to allow for the evolution?

Teachers need to realize that this is not some sort of “attack” on their profession, but is instead meant to help instructional leaders and teachers alike identify what is working, and what is not. And yes, it should also help to weed out those teachers who are simply not effective.

The current evaluation system is far too subjective and superficial.

- Mike.

As a side note, the LA Times article cites the Data Quality Campaign, which maintains an interesting site here: I could not find any state ranking data, but I did read an interesting piece on the benefits of linking teacher and student data, found here.

Obama chides California for not using test scores to evaluate teachers
At stake are billions in federal stimulus funds to be allocated in 'Race to the Top' grants. Schwarzenegger says state law will be amended if necessary to comply.

By Jason Song and Jason Felch

July 25, 2009

President Obama singled out California on Friday for failing to use education data to distinguish poor teachers from good ones, a situation that his administration said must change for the state to receive competitive, federal school dollars.

Obama's comments echo recent criticisms by his Education secretary, Arne Duncan, who warned that states that bar the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as California does, are risking those funds. In an announcement Friday at the Education Department in Washington, Obama and Duncan said the "Race to the Top" awards will be allocated to school districts that institute reforms using data-driven analysis, among other things.

"You cannot ignore facts," Obama said. "That is why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways."

The remarks escalate a disagreement between the Obama administration and California education leaders. While a 2006 law prohibits the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers on a state level, it does not mention local districts, where state officials say pupil data can be used to judge instructors. A handful of districts currently are doing that; L.A. Unified is not.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday he would push to amend state law if necessary.

"We will seek any reforms or changes to the law deemed necessary, including changes to our data system laws, to ensure California is eligible to compete" for federal funds, Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

California's top education officials sent the Obama administration a letter earlier this month saying no changes were needed to state law and that any attempt to modify it could distract from reform efforts, but the administration has not responded.

Obama's speech could also mark the beginning of a protracted fight with teachers unions, which have resisted some of the reforms advocated by the administration, including performance pay and data-driven teacher evaluation.

The state's teachers unions have already voiced their opposition to such a move. When the 2006 law was drafted, teachers unions insisted that it include an amendment saying: "Data in the system may not be used . . . for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or group of teachers, or of any other employment related decisions related to individual teachers."

Obama and Duncan made their position clear. "This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said. "Instead, it will be based on the simple principle: whether a state is ready to do what works."

"Race to the Top" applicants must show progress in four key areas to compete for the $4.35 billion: adopting rigorous academic standards, recruiting and retaining talented educators, turning around chronically low-performing schools, and building data systems to track student and teacher effectiveness. But Obama also pointed out that teachers should not be judged solely on student test scores.

Seven states have already lifted restrictions on public charter schools to better compete for the funds, the Associated Press reported Friday. Other states, such as Colorado and Massachusetts, are trumpeting their recent progress on issues like merit pay and higher educational standards, which they believe will give them an inside track to secure the federal dollars.

Federal officials have said that California legislators do not have to necessarily revise current law. Instead, the attorney general could certify that the state law is not a barrier to teacher accountability.

But some California education officials questioned whether it would be possible to comply with the administration's demands.

California ranks 41st among states in collecting and using data to evaluate teachers, according to a 2008 survey by the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit based in Austin, Texas.

"There is . . . [a] possibility nobody will apply" for the funds, said California Deputy Supt. for Public Instruction Rick Miller, who stressed that state leaders share the Obama administration's goals. "They're asking for fundamental changes in all sorts of areas, and you have to commit to all of it by October. . . . That's a heavy lift."

The draft guidelines for the federal funding released Friday are open for public comment for 30 days. States are required to submit applications by October for the first round of grants.

The money is a portion of the roughly $100-billion educational stimulus package approved by Congress. But much of that money is expected to be used by districts to make up for state budget cuts.

Kristina Sherry in the Washington bureau contributed to this story