Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A few thoughts on Race to the Top

As promised, here are a few thoughts on Race to the Top funding:

The $4.35 billion in this fund is an amount unprecedented in American history. We've never had so much money avaliable to education. A great opportunity, as both Secretary Duncan and President Obama have said. The money was passed as part of the larger American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA, or what the rest of the universe is calling stimulus funds) with few strings; it's a pot of money to be handed out at the Secretary's discretion.

I wish I trusted that disgression more.

Secretary Duncan said that when he was superintendent of Chicago's public schools, he "did not always welcome calls from the U.S. Department of Education." He explains that this is because the federal DoE is "a compliance-driven agency," with little money and even less power.

Now, I'm not clear why he then would not welcome calls from the fed; presumably, he could largely ignore them if he chose to. I know that locally, Worcester spends a bit of time on federal regulations, due to funding of Title 1 and special ed, for example; I would imagine that Chicago would be the same. This is the "carrot and stick"setup of much federal regulation (the old 55 mph speed limit tied to federal transportation funds, for example), and it isn't clear to me that he's doing anything other than attempting to sympathize with those in his former position.

This is where it gets truly weird, though: Race to the Top is, as was said by others first, a lot of stick, and little carrot. Taking that amount of money, and spreading it out the way that he plans to, it isn't going to go so far. Meanwhile, though, for any state to even have a chance at the funds, they must do the following:

  • eliminate caps on charter schools
  • allow teacher evaluation to include student test scores
  • improve (or create) data monitoring
  • subscribe to national education standards

I've said, I think, quite a bit on the first two (as have several of my readers, as have the Legislative branches of the states, per yesterday's post): charter schools are not a cure-all, and tying teacher evaluation to standardized test scores continues to overvalue standardized tests without including the enormous number of other factors that create those scores.

As for data monitoring, yes, tracking how a particular child is doing from year to year is a great and wonderful thing. Dare I ask if that's really what's going to happen, however? What data is going to be tracked? Isn't this going to be just another excuse for data that fits nicely into a graph (which, if you'll pardon an English teacher for a moment, essays, for example, cannot do)? And are we going to track students, or data? The temptation is always to see districts as "improving" or not, when we are talking about individual students.

National education standards? I'd say I approach them with caution. Are we going to ensure that our science standards are not set by those with little understanding of science? Whose history are we teaching? And where, in all of this, is special ed? I also do wonder where all of this falls constitutionally: it would seem to me that this falls under the Tenth Amendment of reserving all other powers to the people and the states.

Comments on Race to the Top are open. I'd urge you to get them in.


JohnMatthew said...

Not to mention thar RTTT will fund STEM almost exclusively.

Tracy Novick said...

That's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, for those not up on the acronyms. JohnMatthew, where are you getting that, if you wouldn't mind?

Jim Gonyea said...

Tracking kids advancement would be a worthy idea. It's not what the scores are used for though. They're used to track a schools grades year after year. So this year's third grade is compared to last year's third grade. We don't track if Johnny got better at math between last year and this year, only whether Johnny's grade level got better. I've never been sure how you compare this year's kids to last year's kids since they're not the same kids. I would love to know if Johnny is tracking to pass the 10th grade MCAS. I don't. I know if this year's Third Grade scores better than last years. And if this year's class scored a 96%, but last year's scored a 97% we say that the school is underperforming. It doesn't pass the logic test.

National Standards should exist. I have no issue with the Federal Government giving money to the states for education. I do have an issue with national standards. What in the US Consitution gives the Federal Government the authority to enforce national standards? The states have the authority over education standards thanks to the 10th Ammendment.