The US Department of Education has released the much anticipated regulations (read Executive Summary here) that will determine the distribution of the $4 billion in Race to the Top (RTTT) funding, ending the tea leaf reading and the parsing of every little word uttered by Ed Secretary Duncan.
The $4 billion is the most money Washington has ever given to overhaul schools. It is to be awarded in two rounds, in April and September, to about a dozen states that propose bold schemes to shake up the way they evaluate and compensate teachers, use data to raise achievement and intervene in failing schools. With $16 billion in school budget shortfalls projected for next year, states are hungry.
Experts say the process is like watching dozens of states bid for the Olympics.
In August of 2008 I listened to a video feed of a 12-minute Obama speech to the American Federation of Teachers convention, to be polite the response of the delegates was tepid, better than the booing he received a month earlier at the National Education of Teachers convention.
The Obama-Duncan policies: encouraging the opening of more charter schools (no state imposed caps), pay for teacher performance, using data to evaluate teachers, aka “getting rid of bad teachers,” and national standards are viewed by teachers as assaults on their professionalism. While Obama makes vague comments about collaboration he is clearly is moving forward, with or without teacher unions.
Across the country, different groups are coming together to bring about change in our schools — teachers unions and parents groups, businesses and community organizations. In places like New Haven, educators and city leaders have come together to find a smarter way to evaluate teachers and turn around low-performing schools.
The public understands much of the healthcare debate: cover all Americans, no rejections for pre-existing conditions, more choice of carriers and lower costs for insurance., The nuances are many but the basics of the proposed law, in spite of Republican bricks is popular among Obama voters.
The Obama-Duncan educational reform policies are obscure to the public and alienating to teachers, among his strongest supporters. There simply no evidence that any of his education policy will “turn around” the national education system.
Gerald Bracey, a well regarded educational icon (who recently passed away) has written a superb critique of the core Obama dicta.
This year’s Bracey Report identifies and discusses the research support for what the author considers to be three of the most important assumptions about how to reform public education:
1. High-quality schools can eliminate the achievement gap between whites and minorities.
2. Mayoral control of public schools is an improvement over the more common elected board governance systems.
3. Higher standards will improve the performance of public schools.
Bracey concludes: there is no research support.
Pay for performance is the touchstone of the Obama ideologues, and research is scarce, a collection of research shows some successes but clearly the jury is still out.
What we do know is that collaboration does work, we do know that teachers are experts, and using teacher-experts to work with their peers is a highly successful strategy.
A staff of hardworking teachers with access to basic technology could learn much more together than they would under the tutelage of an imported expert. Rather than hiring external presenters, schools can see much better results by putting the responsibility for, and the control of, professional growth in the hands of their own teachers.
Teachers increasingly see the $4 billion as a biblical “thirty pieces of silver,” the feds using the lure of dollars to drive states to embed the Obama-Duncan weltanschauung, even if their view is a slight of hand rather than research-based.
The selection of twelve or states to receive the four billion means 38 or so states will not receive funding. Pressure from teacher union members will grow and any chance of an Obama slanted reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may be bleak. In fact, the reauthorization could undo Obama policies.
When Rahm Emmanuel picks up the phone to call Randi Weingarten and asks for her minions to beat the bushes for democratic candidates he may find Randi in her Al Shanker mode, the “tough liberal.”