Racing to the top

The “Race to the Top” — $4.35 billion in federal funding to push education reform — starts today.

States must let student test scores be used to evaluate teachers and principals,  writes Michele McNeil in Education Week. That would force California and New York to change state law to qualify for funds.

This is Education Reform’s Moon Shot, writes Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a Washington Post op-ed. The department’s never had this much money to hand out before. There are 19 points, but four basic ideas are critical:

— To reverse the pervasive dumbing-down of academic standards and assessments by states, Race to the Top winners need to work toward adopting common, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards that prepare students for success in college and careers.

— To close the data gap — which now handcuffs districts from tracking growth in student learning and improving classroom instruction — states will need to monitor advances in student achievement and identify effective instructional practices.

— To boost the quality of teachers and principals, especially in high-poverty schools and hard-to-staff subjects, states and districts should be able to identify effective teachers and principals — and have strategies for rewarding and retaining more top-notch teachers and improving or replacing ones who aren’t up to the job.

— Finally, to turn around the lowest-performing schools, states and districts must be ready to institute far-reaching reforms, from replacing staff and leadership to changing the school culture.

It’s fair to evaluate teachers based on students’ progress, says President Obama in a Washington Post interview.

So what we can say is that if a kid comes in and they gain two grade levels during the course of that single year, even if they’re still a little behind the national average, that tells us that school is doing a good job.

Linking teacher pay to test scores is a big mistake, argues Robert Pondiscio.  Teachers already focus too much on scores and too little on the big picture.

It’s The Carrot That Feels Like a Stick, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. He likes the reform ideas but dislikes the Washington Knows Best tone. If the states are forced to go along, they’ll implement reforms half-heartedly.

This is a draft, not the final proposal, so it’s possible the administration will bend on some of its 19 points.

Eduwonk hopes the department will hold the line, denying grants to states that aren’t serious about change. He notes NEA president Dennis Van Roekel claims to be “absolutely in sync with where they’re going,” except for performance pay, charter schools and linking student and teacher data.  Eduwonk writes:

It’s akin to saying they’re on board with Duncan’s ”moon shot” except for the parts about rockets, rocket fuel, astronauts, engineers, and mission control.

Michael Umphrey wants students and parents to change — or else.

(Obama) could send the school money directly to the parents in the form of vouchers, threatening to cut it off if the kids grades don’t improve. He could turn off cell phone service for kids whose GPA drops below C. He could give each honor student one of those unsold General Motors cars while revoking drivers licenses for any student who gets an F.

Hmmm. Would a GM car be a sufficient motivator?

It’s difficult to figure out how much a teacher or a principal has contributed to students’ learning.  I think we’re in the early stages of figuring this out, not in the so-obvious-everyone-should-do-it stage.

About Joanne


  1. I don’t think its just a possiblity that the administration will bend on a few points. Behind closed doors, I bet, they will produce the compromises necessary to stay on track. Compromise is not a bad word.

    It sticks in my craw that Duncan would praise NYC when the recent audit by Ernst and Young documented so many abuses of data. But resentment gets you nowhere.

    Duncan and Obama don’t have time to read the Ernst and Young audit, but their staff does. How could you actually read their independent evaluation of NYC data and then argue that linking teachers evaluations and tenure to data like that isn’t dangerous?

    When we read the audit, we see it in a certain frame of mine. I bet most if not all teachers have seen games like “annualization” in order to pass on students. But how would we react to the opposite? How would we react if those transparent tricks were being used to drive students out of school?

    Behind closed doors, it shouldn’t be hard to devise regs to keep systems from abusing test scores to drive teachers out of the profession.

  2. Will I be able to replace my poorly performing students?

  3. Or their poorly performing parents?

  4. There was a typo in my comment. I meant to write the Comptroller’s audit. I made that mistake in a post Friday at thisweekineducation and it must have still been in my mind.

    David Cantor brought the error to my attention. check it out. As often happens, I see his strenuous defense of the NYC DOE as more evidence that something is seriously wrong in Klein central office.

  5. I’ve seen the NYC audit cited a few times on different blogs, and finally getting around to reading it, I’m not convinced it’s really the damning evidence against standardized testing data that some are claiming it to be.

    “We also found that for the most part, the schools that we visited complied with the State guidelines and the guidelines outlined in the Handbook. Our own review of the data and documentation collected by DOE for the 2007-2008 ELA and Math tests and our observations conducted at the sampled schools on the day of testing did not reveal any instances of cheating. However, as more fully explained in the audit report, we cannot be assured that cheating did not occur.”

    The recommendations are useful advice but the audit itself came off as a bit silly as I read it. The recommendations suggest making the documentation process for monitors more formal, suggesting that since the monitors marked “Yes” to questions such as, “Students have been reminded to bring #2 pencils to class” even when the monitors might not have been in the room to observe such actions, their motives might be questionable.

    That opened testing materials are left at a school site is not evidence for cheating, but rather a logistical decision to keep data from being manipulated or mixed up with others.

    That teachers weren’t specifically warned of the consequences of cheating on a state standardized test through a formal document does not mean teachers don’t understand it is an important test you shouldn’t defraud, and like all tests that we give, cheating is inappropriate and could get you in trouble.

    Frankly, there is a level of decency that I think most teachers understand: as a role model for your students, you don’t cheat. And if you do cheat, you better hope that everyone in your circle of colleagues support the act of cheating, since they will soon learn about it, either from student rumors or parents calling in.

    Following this, that an entire school might be (or soon become) knowledgeable of incidences of cheating and simply accept it without seeking outside intervention seems ludicrous to me.

  6. Its not just the sloppy record keeping or the stories that emerged in the give and take between the auditors and the NYC DOE. Its the combination of the two.

    The audit found students (above age 17 as required to declare an NYC dropout)who not only missed 20 consequetive days, but missed almost every day of the Spring semester. But because the school didn’t do the outreach and document it, they could not be declared dropouts. I’d think an accountability advocate would want the school to follow procedures, do the interventions, follow the legal rules, and then do the recovery efforts and document them.

    Even if there is a rationale for awarding five credits in a short summer school, why award two credits in a timely basis and then retroactively add three more? And when you graduate students who are absent 1/3rd of the time, what does that say about your school’s Value Addded?

    We know what’s happening, but why lie about it? Every year I pass on students who haven’t met standards. Without professional courtesy, how do struggling schools survive? If a caring adult who knows a students’ problems ask me to cut a deal, I have to ask why my instincts are better; I’m not God. I hold the line on truancy whenever possible. But if the kid is on an IEP and the parent is angry, I’m not going to hang my principal out to dry.

    Occassionally I see a simple issue, but that’s very rare. In most cases there is more than enough blame to go around. My complaint is reformers like Joel Klein who have no direct understand of the classroom who wants to hold all of us accuntable, but not his own system.