It’s that time of year again. The days are getting warmer, the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom, and runners are taking to the streets. Perhaps that’s what inspired President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to announce the launch of yet another round of Race to the Top, the competitive federal grant program that has given us such wonders as value added teacher rankings, the Common Core Curriculum, and “personalized learning” via lecture hall sized classes in front of computer monitors. So what are we racing for this time? In round three of Race to the Top we are racing for “equity”. The paradox of holding a race for equity appears to have escaped the mental capacities of the Obama Administration’s education policymakers, but the irony was not lost on the School Superintendents Association’s executive director, Noelle Ellerson,
“We question the sincerity behind the call for equity when, by construction, the program creates a system of winners and losers,” she said. “http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/03/obama_pitches_race_to_the_top_.html?cmp=ENL-EU-NEWS2
Who knows? Maybe this race will operate like my son’s preschool soccer league at the YMCA. After throwing himself on the ground at the beginning of every practice kicking and screaming, my husband quit taking him after three weeks, but he was still awarded a trophy at the end of the season. Maybe even the most resistant school districts will end up being awarded some federal cash incentives if only they comply with the wishes of Washington.
So what does Washington wish for this time? Mr. Duncan still seems to think educational equity can be created by transferring our high performing teachers (which most likely happen to work at high income schools) to low performing schools (which most likely happen to be low income schools).
“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted on a call with reporters that there isn’t a single school district that is “systemically identifying” its “hardest-working” teachers and “moving that talent to underserved communities.””
Perhaps if Mr. Duncan had bothered to read some of the literature that his own department funds, he wouldn’t be foolish enough to believe that a simple teacher swap would create equity in our schools. (Hmm… this would make a great reality TV show! “Teacher Swap,” tune in every week to see what happens when you take a high performing teacher out of the suburbs and throw them into a low performing school in the ghetto). Me thinks that most teachers know how this series would end given the fact that only 5% of the high performing teachers that were offered $20,000 to switch schools actually took up the offer and 60% of them left after their two year commitment was up http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2014/01/review-transfer-incentives. The study by Mathematica and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, concluded that paying excellent teachers a bonus to transfer to low performing schools yielded disappointing results.
So maybe Mr. Duncan missed this one study. I’m sure he’s up to date on the literature from his alma mater. The Harvard Educational Press recently conducted a study on the success of a turn around school in Charlotte Mecklenburg county. http://ui.uncc.edu/story/cms-school-turnaround-harvard-educational-press.
Factors which helped improve the school’s performance included: enhancing the physical environment, parental involvement, strong leadership, teacher collaboration and small class sizes. Surely Mr. Duncan would include funding that would encourage teacher collaboration and small class sizes? Well, maybe this study slipped underneath his radar as well.
Mary Kuslar, NEA director of government relations, reacted to Race to the Top round three with a bit of criticism, “We were disappointed to see the cut in [overall aid for teacher quality],” said Kusler. Those dollars are important “for delivering professional development and class-size reduction that we know our students need in order to succeed.”
So funding for teacher quality and class size reduction was cut while funding for pay for performance was increased. Because we know nothing encourages teacher collaboration more than paying them according to their test rankings!
Bottom line is that the Obama Administration loves data. They love collecting data, storing data and funding data. At the end of the day, however, they don’t seem to give a hoot about what all that data actually tells them.