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Thompson: How "Race To The Top" Went Wrong

Broader_bolderOne of the more damaging aspects of NCLB was that it set impossible targets, contributing to panic and hurried implementation of seemingly quicker and easier policies.  Teachers were essentially deputized as the agents for overcoming the legacies of generational poverty.  NCLB thus failed and undermined more promising methods of improving schools.

Elaine Weiss, of the Broader, Bolder Approach, shows how Race to the Top committed the same mistake.  Her new report (Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Education Improvement) recounts the “unrealistic and impossible” promises made by states to win federal grants.

Weiss draws on studies by the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for American Progress, numerous journalism sources, an email survey of the experiences of district superintendents from the RTTT states, and over two dozen interviews with state and community education leaders to explain why the rush to reform now threatens early education, college readiness standards, and sustainable efforts to improve teacher quality. 

Not surprisingly, the USDOE and NCLB co-author  Charlie Barone complain about Weiss’ study.  But, if it was as biased as Barone implies, would Weiss have buried her lede?  The real meat of her report is found in the appendices.  

The first provides a case study of Ohio’s disappointing experience with RttT.

The Race to the Top application process required states to show capacity to make progress, and that prompted many to claim a history of raising test scores while promising dramatic increases.  Ohio, for instance, had a problem with that because its 8th grade NAEP Reading scores had been in decline, but it still projected substantial increases for the next four years. 

Ohio seemed to get off to a good, bipartisan collaborative start in implementing RttT. When applying for the grant, a premium was put on collaborative union–management relationships to turn around the state’s most troubled schools. Republicans took over the governorship and the state House of Representatives, and budget cuts changed the priorities.  

One problem with Ohio’s implementation of its teacher quality promises is that the new administration adopted a value-added model that was especially inappropriate, as the thrust of the evaluation policies became more punitive. The Ohio model does not take into account student demographics. But, it holds teachers accountable for scores of students who were absent for nine weeks. 

Consequently, on average, value-added scores were 2.5 times higher for districts where the median family income was above $35,000 than for districts with incomes below that amount.  Although two-thirds of teachers in low-poverty districts had positive value-added scores, two-thirds had negative scores in high-poverty districts. 

President of the Ohio School Boards Association explains that “a lot of teachers got into this business, frankly came into the business to teach disadvantaged kids.” The original goal was to encourage top teachers to commit to high-poverty schools, but “what good teacher in her right mind would willingly want to teach these kids now?”

The President of the Dayton Teacher’s Association agrees that grant timeline “was way too accelerated.” Then, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) changed the rules in the middle of the game. So, this left administrators and teachers “throwing our hands up in the air”  

The union president complains that the ODE once changed directions regarding curriculum three times in two weeks. This type of uncertainty also threatens the state’s efforts to implement Common Core: 

We’re going into CC implementation the same way we went into RTTT, at about 100 miles an hour without being able to see out the windshield. In terms of nationwide curriculum, it needs to be approached cautiously, carefully, and implemented with some thought, instead of ‘here’s the fix of the day.’ And it gets implemented without fidelity and unsuccessfully.  

So, does Ohio’s rushed RttT experiment show signs of increasing student performance? Ohio’s NAEP scores saw no statistically significant improvement in proficiency in either math or reading between school years 2008–2009 and 2010–2011.  Ohio missed three of its four 2010–2011 RttT targets.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

 

 

 

 

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The discussion of education reform is a continuing battle that have fervent defenders on both sides of the argument. From teachers unions to the most adamant reformist we see policies being herald as "the answer" from both sides, but just how much stock should we take in these initiatives? John Thompsons article shed some light on the short comings of hurriedly picking a policy and implementing it posthaste.

After reading this article, I found myself not so eager to scream for "change" in our education system. This is by no means saying that I don't believe we need to take a serious penetrating look at our Public school systems, but we shouldn't be so eager to jump on any policy that will "fix" all our education related problems. As Thompson points out about the Ohio Department of Education: "One problem with Ohio’s implementation of its teacher quality promises is that the new administration adopted a value-added model that was especially inappropriate, as the thrust of the evaluation policies became more punitive. The Ohio model does not take into account student demographics. But, it holds teachers accountable for scores of students who were absent for nine weeks.".

I believe we need to step back, and not necessarily take our time, but take a long-hard look at what options are available and how well they will work in the real world.

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