Many people had considered President Obama’s ability to create a new education policy, Race to the Top (RTTT), as innovative and creative. It actually is just like the Bush era policies and does not push us into the future. Thomas Friedman comments in his column today by discussing a new documentary he saw recently:
For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts. The best ones are now reforming, and the worst are facing challenges from charters.
Although the movie makes the claim that the key to student achievement is putting a great teacher in every classroom, and it is critical of the teachers’ unions and supportive of charters, it challenges all the adults who run our schools — teachers, union leaders, principals, parents, school boards, charter-founders, politicians — with one question: Are you putting kids and their education first?
Pertinent, yes, but it is just a generic criticism of the U.S. school system. The problem is that Obama did not fix the problem, he just made the system more open market. His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was the Chief Executive of Chicago Schools. This school district introduced numerous reforms with very little results. An article from In These Times Magazine summarizes the reforms like this:
RTTT gives points to states if they meet specific requirements, doing the opposite of what Duncan says is the Obama administration’s objective—being tight on goals, loose on implementation. The policies Duncan urges states to implement in their quest for federal dollars include: expanding charter schools; linking teacher pay to student test scores; enabling districts to dismiss entire staffs of failing schools; weakening teacher tenure; and testing and tracking student performance even more stringently, albeit more comprehensively.
The winners of this competition were recently announced. Newsweek says they were:
Massachusetts, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio after the 10 were named winners of round two of the Obama administration’s national education-reform competition
Now, what is wrong with these schools you might ask? Mostly they are all East coast schools. Many rural and poor school districts did not have the funding or the grant writing ability to tackle most of the problems necessary. It is like the logic behind No Child Left Behind: taking money away from the school districts who do not meet the test standards, when they actually need federal funds the most. This system uses logic just as fallacious as that policy. Not to mention that NCLB is not changed and now it is just in a free market, winner take all system. Not to mention that Duncan’s so called “amazing record” is far from it. In These Times continues:
•In the most definitive national study to date, Stanford University researchers reported last year that only 17 percent of charter schools outperformed traditional public schools in math, with 37 percent faring worse than public schools and 46 percent measuring up equally. Chicago’s charters (without tenure protection for their mostly nonunion teachers) have performed better in math, but no differently in reading, than public schools. Chicago’s public magnet schools—where teachers have tenure and a union, but students compete for admission—scored much higher in both math and reading.
•Duncan’s much-touted RTTT encouragement of bonus payments to “good” teachers—to spur both teacher development and higher student test scores—had “no significant impact on student achievement or teacher retention” in Chicago, according to Mathematica Policy Research, a leading firm in assessing performance of social programs. (A study of a New York City merit-pay program also showed little effect on student performance.)
•RTTT priorities also reflect Duncan’s Renaissance 2010 plan—close schools, then reopen them as small schools or charters—and his “portfolio strategy,” the school plan equivalent of an investment portfolio of private and public educational “assets.” But studies by SRI International and the Chicago Consortium on School Research (affiliated with the University of Chicago) concluded that Renaissance 2010 schools only occasionally performed better than demographically similar schools and that the portfolio strategy yielded “no dramatic improvements.”
•Both Duncan and the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind legislation encouraged increased reliance on standardized tests to measure student performance, thereby pressuring teachers to teach to the test so they and their students would “pass.” But strategies imposed on Chicago schools as a consequence for low scores—often against community and union protest—did not produce higher test scores, let alone better schools. Elementary school scores did rise sharply, but mostly because of a change in the test.
•The number of high school students who failed to meet grade-level performance remained between 69 and 73 percent from 2001 to 2008, the year before Duncan left Chicago for Washington. In 2009, the Commercial Club concluded that despite “moderate” elementary school gains, after all of Duncan’s policy changes, the city’s high schools remained “abysmal” and students were not prepared for success in college or beyond.
What needs to be addressed? Poverty in schools, changing the funding system, changing the tenure programs, smaller class sizes. It might even be helpful to develop national standards for children from sea to shining sea to learn. Right now, the track is much same as most of Obama’s agenda: half concocted and compromised until there is nothing left. Essentially, it is more of the same.
In These Times piece