Race to the Top! It was such a great, popular successful idea...oh, wait.
Anyway, Secretary Duncan has decided that it was such a great idea that we needed to do it now at the DISTRICT level!
The claim is that this new competition "asks districts “to show us how they can personalize and individualize education for a set of students in their schools,”" but as Rick Hess notes:
It also manages to subvert the democratic process (Hess again):...the performance metrics reflect a pinched focus on the handful of things we know how to measure. Duncan said he's seeking "personalized learning environments" that focus on "competency-based education" in order to promote "school[s] that meets the unique needs of our children." Yet, ED specifies that performance will be demonstrated via six metrics: summative assessments, decreasing the achievement gaps, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student attendance, and teacher attendance. These metrics are at odds with Duncan's handsome verbiage. There's no room for applicants to propose documenting performance in advanced science, world languages, the arts, history, student engagement, or much else. This limitation is a much bigger problem at the district than at the state level. State-level levers and measures are necessarily crude, since they're writing rules that must be applied across scores or even hundreds of districts to hundreds or thousands of schools. But those same strictures need not apply at the district level. It's unfortunate to see the feds telling purportedly "leading" districts to nonetheless lend an outsized, compliance-driven import to just these measures.
The U.S. Department of Education is now going to get into the business of telling local, elected bodies how to evaluate themselves. By 2014-15, districts will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account for school boards (along with every other breathing soul in a district). This is an especially novel innovation in democratic government--school boards are elected or appointed bodies who serve at the pleasure of their voters or an elected official. Perhaps the Department of Transportation will next start requiring city councils to be evaluated based on transit performance But the move is par for the course from a Department that has shown little disregard for pesky Constitutional constraints....and all for remarkably little money (in a district budget sense): districts the size of DC are up for $20 million.
More from Hess on this here.