Racing To The Top

Race to the Top final regulations are on the way Thursday [You can read them here].   Ed Week writes them up.   To some extent they do reinforce the view that the tragedy of Race to the Top is that the Department of Ed has to spend this money at all – the anticipation may well have leveraged more state-level change than the actual program will. 

The punchline is that the readers/reviewers for the state applications are now the entire ballgame.  If they’re not strong and keenly attuned to change and reform then this initiative won’t suceed.  I’m not as glum as some of the voices in the Ed Week story, but the regs have changed (and not in a reformist direction) so without a strong process to really evaluate state plans it is possible that some weak plans could slip through this scoring metric.    In the Department’s defense, they are planning a creative qualitative process to vet the applications after the initial scoring is done.   That’s crucial for quality.

Few things that are getting attention:  It’s easy to see why the Department wanted to create a more comprehensive state capacity rubric, but it could also open the door to a lot of fuzziness.  Again, the expertise of the readers matter a lot.  I’m not freaked out (although some are) by the minimizing of common standards or new assessments, that’s a nod political and capacity realities.   It would have been nice to see high-quality charters weighted more…and they could have been more aggressive on the human capital front.  It’s still a lot of points but could have included more teeth to really delineate states.*  

Bouncing ball to keep your eye on:  New York.   A strict reading of this means the state shouldn’t be eligible, but will be interesting to see how that plays out…the argument is being made that because the NY teacher data ban only applies to tenure it’s not really a ban on evaluation at all.   Of course, a reasonable person might conclude that if a tenure decision isn’t an evaluation then exactly what is?  Then again, a reasonable person would have no place in New York education policymaking.  Update:  More from Tom Carroll on that.

Other states to watch:  CO, LA, DE, FL, TN, IN, RI, MA (although the charter piece takes some pressure off there) and MI with some pending policy changes being debated there.  Wild card DC?

Big risk:   Most states simply don’t have the capacity to do this well right now.  Will they be able to leverage sufficient resources and buy-in from LEAs?

*But, a lot is being made of changes to the language around teacher evaluation.   That’s a bit of a misdirection play.  The original language never made standardized tests the only evaluation criteria so language about “multiple measures” really isn’t a change because it was implied all along.  So if the unions want to claim a perception victory that’s a good place but it’s not a real issue.

3 Replies to “Racing To The Top”

  1. A nasty little dig at education in NY State-who, IMHO—the NYS Regents have held a steady hand over the statewide testing program which maintains consistently high standards with the highly regarded Regents Curriculum-as well as a strongly standardized process for teacher certification—just to name two areas of reason in NYS—Richard Mills, Thomas Sobol…reasonable men…Joel Klein?

  2. I hope and expect that the New York law on student performance data and tenure decisions will expire as scheduled in a few months.

    But here is what the law says “…the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data.”

    This does not prevent districts from using student performance data in tenure evaluation. For example, a district could use student data to identify teachers for more careful and final review by other means.

    Speaking to the National Education Association this summer, Secretary Duncan said, “Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions. That would never make sense. But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.”

    If New York’s law is inconsistent with the Race to the Top guidelines, then those guidelines are inconsistent with Secretary Duncan’s rhetoric at the union convention this summer.

    Robert Lowry
    NYS Council of School Superintendents

  3. I agree! I am a teacher and agree that student achievement HAS to be part of our evaluation process. We have to be accountable for student achievement. I also agree that student achievement can not entirely be used to make decision but has to be a part of that process!

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