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Race to the Top Comments Are In

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Schools and the StimulusThe U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program director, Joanne Weiss, has a big job on her hands now that hundreds of comments have been filed on the 19 criteria that the department proposes to use in awarding $4 billion in competitive grants. I've read most of the comments, and folks raise tons of good questions that showcase just how difficult it is try to apply one set of criteria to 50 different states. The comments also foreshadow how difficult it will be to fairly judge these states, which have different constitutions and governance structures, different politicians, and operate in different contexts.

There are the predictable comments, such as from states without charter schools that object to that being used as one of the criteria on which states will be judged. Plenty of others are objecting to the components of the criteria that seek to improve teacher and principal effectiveness. And the National Conference of State Legislatures, predictably, wants to be recognized in the criteria for the role its members have in education policy.

Weiss has said that the department will take time to read each comment and make any changes to the proposed criteria, with the goal being to have the final regulations done by October or early November.

Consider this a brief summary of other comments, organized around common themes.

Paperwork burden: Several state officials say that the documentation required for the application could be overly burdensome. They want more clarification on the department's requirement that states obtain memoranda-of-understanding from participating school districts (as in all of them?) And many think that requiring a state's attorney general to sign off on the interpretation of state laws that are used as evidence for meeting a criteria will take too long. Education chiefs in Massachusetts and Florida suggested that each education department's chief legal counsel could do that job. The National Governors Association thinks the attorney-general requirement should be removed altogether. (And the NGA also says that some governors object to the requirement that the state board of education president must sign on to the Race to the Top Fund application).

"Participating LEAs": States and education groups are curious as to whether they can award the second half of their Race to the Top funds to a select group of school districts, or if they have to dole out money to all of them. (The first half of the money is doled out per the Title I formula.) States are making it clear that they may want to direct their Race to the Top money to a select group of schools where the most good can be done.

IEPs: Many states, special education advocacy groups, and even U.S. Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat and chairman of the House education committee, object to language about how states should measure achievement for special education students. The criteria call for using students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) as a gauge for measuring their achievement in non-tested subjects. All point out that IEPs are meant to set goals, not to measure student achievement.

Transparency and accountability: Many states (such as Washington, Colorado, Texas, Kentucky), want to know, going in, what the scoring rubric will be on meeting the criteria, and whether failing to meet a single criterion will knock a state out of the running. They want to know which criteria will be given the most weight, and how the peer reviewers will be picked. The Coalition for Student Achievement wants the Education Department to post all of the state applications online, even before they're approved. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants the education department to hold back some of a winning state's grant money as leverage to make sure the state delivers on its reform plan.

Common standards: The NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which are partnering in the common standards effort, point out that the time line for states to adopt common standards is far more aggressive in the Education Department's criteria than in the agreement reached by states. (The states agreed to adopt standards within three years; the criteria call for them to be adopted in just one year.) In addition, the department's criteria call for all standards to be "identical" across states, whereas the states have agreed that 85 percent of their standards should match.

Early learning: State officials from Colorado and Kentucky, along with foundations such as The Pew Charitable Trusts, are encouraging the Education Department to ask states to integrate early learning and pre-K programs into their Race to the Top applications.

6 Comments

My word, what a mob of selfish pigs at the trough. Is there even one voice whom will stand up and declare that this stimulus money is theft of the American people via printing more money, increased taxation and borrowing that means the inevitable impoverishment of the vast majority? Does anyone really think by accepting this lucre that public schools are any better than the banks, AIG and other leeching elite?

There's a world of difference between "racing to the top" and "slowly rising from the bottom." All the hype in the world doesn't change that. Nor does all the input that Joanne Weiss has received change the fact that "Race to the Top" is little more than a well-funded continuation of the educational policies of the Bush administration.

There is little innovative thinking going on either in Washington or at the state levels. There's plenty of innovative thinking going on by individual teachers. None of that thinking suggests that one-size-fits-all rules need to be in place in order for the U.S. Department of Education to effectively fund school improvement.

In the 'Race to the Top' program, states tht do not allow student test scores to be used for employment evaluations, are not eligible. California is one of them.

We received collective bargainng nearly 30 years ago as a way to force school districs to see our needs as professionals, not cattle that they could boss around without any professional input. Tenure was not doing the trick, so another method was forced upon school districts, superintendents, and principals. The district hierarchy never liked it and this would be there way of getting back at 30 years of logger heads with unions.
The righties argue that it is the unions that step in the way of progress. We argue that it is individuals at the school level that get in the way of progress. One thing that the administrators fail to see: Student test scores will only improve when those scores become part of the grade, with which I have no problem. This is what students have told me.
If student scores became part of the
teacher evaluation, teachers would be competing against one another for the 'best' classes. There could be open warfare, which may be what they want, using the divide and conquer principle. The losers will be the kids in the inner city and those with a history of poor performance.

Race to the Top sounds like a good slogan if you are talking about horses or competitive sports. In the field of education we are talking about human beings, in particular the youth of the nation, those who will carry forward the best of our civilization and work hard at creating a sustainable future. Educators have learned over time that the best motivation is intrinsic, not extrinsic, and that young people work toward competence and a sense of accomplishment when they also see the adults around them value their achievements. Finally, educators need to inspire their students to put their best effort forward towards a valuable goal, not just for themselves but for service to others, "the least among us." Education isn't a race with some winners and other losers. It needs to be an enterprise where all are winners, and all see themselves as valuable contributors to a common good. Some may be motivated by "winning" but most are motivated by the daily accomplishment of personal goals.

We have worked hard in education to shift from individual teachers taking credit for the work they do to a shared sense of accomplishment when students are successful. No matter whose class they are in when they score high on the tests, it took all the teachers who came before to build the foundation for that accomplishment. Competition isn't the best way to achieve our goals, learning communities with shared values for achievement for all students... collaboration and cooperation are much better ways to strengthen our schools.

Teachers are continuously blamed for things outside of their control. We can teach, encourage, tutor, encourage some more, until we are blue in the face, that still will not make some kids take the testing seriously. As much as we would like for them to be intrinsicly motivated, they are not. My students constently admit, they are "lazy", they want to get by, doing as little as possible. They get excited about getting by with a D. At the secondary level, teachers have their students for one hour out of the 24 of the day. When are parents going to be held accountable? In the corporate world, the employer has a choice in who they hire for the job and if by some chance that employee doesn't get the job done, they can fire them. Teachers have NO choice as to who is in their classroom and if they do not follow directions, if they do not perform, there is nothing much we can do about it. When are the powers at be going to wake up and smell the coffee. They want the test scores to rise and their solution is to take more money from the schools, giving teachers more to do with less, and put more students in the classroom, making it even more difficult to reach all the students. Heaven help us! The state and government sure aren't.

"Re" + "Search" = Look Again

A review of existing research gave us the expensive and arguably unsuccessful $6 billion Reading First Program. Reading First teaches children to be decoders rather than be excellent readers (with comprehension skills capable of carrying them successfully through high school and post-high school education).

Reading First was built and promoted entirely on what resarch "says" are best practices with early reading instruction. Today, millions of dollars of "research" are now being poured into understanding the resulting "fourth grade slump" -- reading ability that stalls at a third/fourth grade level. The cause is obvious: DECODING as the child's primary method of reading. Decoding is slow, inefficient, and, because of limits to working memory, interferes with comprehension.

In five years "researchers" will document that this is correct. While we wait for that confirmation, I'm personally thrilled that the Obama Administration has left "research" out of the language for the Race to the Top.

Teaching to an individual student's needs by quality teachers is the only way to get every student to the top. The only way.

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