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Race to the Top is a Race Off a Cliff

Thank goodness that our state didn’t go aggressively after the Race to the Top bribe although we had our own state PTA pushing for it along with the corporate backed Stand for Children and the League of Education Voters.

Now states that bought into the scam, whether they received the RTTT money or not, are stuck with an evaluation system that is failing on all levels and has overwhelmed principals, teachers, and worst of all, the students.

From yesterday’s New York Times article titled In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff,

Last year, when Tennessee was named one of the first two states to win a federal Race to The Top grant, worth $501 million, there was great joy all around.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has the job of implementing President Obama’s signature education program, praised Tennessee officials for having “the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”

Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, called his state “the focal point of education reform in the nation.” Tennessee’s new motto is “First to the Top.”

So you would think that educators like Will Shelton, principal of Blackman Middle School here, would be delighted. The state requires that teachers be evaluated by their students’ test scores, and that principals get into classrooms regularly to observe teachers.

Mr. Shelton is a big believer in both.

But not this. “I’ve never seen such nonsense,” he said. “In the five years I’ve been principal here, I’ve never known so little about what’s going on in my own building.” Mr. Shelton has to spend so much time filling out paperwork that he’s stuck in his office for long stretches.

The new rules, enacted at the start of the school year, require Mr. Shelton to do as many observations for his strongest teachers — four a year — as for his weakest. “It’s an insult to my best teachers,” he said, “but it’s also a terrible waste of time.”

Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

“One of my teachers came to me six weeks ago and said, ‘Will, morale is in the toilet,’ ” Mr. Shelton recalled. “This destroys any possibility of building a family atmosphere. It causes so much distrust.”

If ever proof were needed for the notion that it’s a good idea to look before you leap, it’s the implementation of Race to the Top in Tennessee. “I don’t know why they felt they had to rush,” said Tim Tackett, a member of the school board here who was a teacher and principal for 32 years. “Clearly this wasn’t well thought out.”

To see the article in full, go to the New York Times Sunday Education section.

And then in Long Island, there is a school who was to go through the “transformation process” of either replacing the principal, laying off 50% of the teachers or closing the school and opening it up again as a charter schools.

From Federal Program Blamed for Long Island City High School Scheduling Chaos.

Students at Long Island City High School in Queens have struggled with major changes to their schedules recently, and teachers and administrators say a federal program that provides millions of dollars to fix problems may actually be to blame. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.Long Island City High School is getting millions of dollars to improve under a federal program, but now teachers and administrators say it’s that effort that spun the school into chaos to begin with.

The Queens high school is one of 33 schools in the city that won federal funding to fix its problems rather than shut down. Each gets up to $2 million a year for three years to make some big changes.

However, as NY1 first reported, the changes at Long Island City have not been good.

“What happened to these kids should never have happened to anyone,” said Queens City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.

Last week, 120 class sections were cut out of the schedule. Four course offerings were canceled entirely, meaning 900 students attended two months of classes in courses that no longer exist. All 3,500 students were given new class schedules with different teachers.

The school blames the transformation program.

“There were a lot of things that weren’t broke that they wanted fixed, and sometimes that causes more problems that really have to be fixed. And it’s been a difficult time dealing with people from Washington feeling that they know better than the people on the ground,” said teacher Ken Achiron.

The grant required replacing the school’s longtime principal, who teachers say dealt well with the complicated scheduling, and also called for the school to be divided into smaller “learning communities.”

“That was done too quickly. It was too much of an effort to do to a school this large that quickly,” said Vallone.

This school is in its second year of the three-year federal program. Three other schools that just started and got millions may never get that far.

This week, Department of Education officials said they’re considering closing Grace Dodge, Lehman and Washington Irving for poor performance.

Grace Dodge got an F on its annual progress report last week, as did the two other transformation schools the DOE is now considering closing. That’s made officials reconsider whether these schools are salvageable after all.

The teachers at Long Island City say “transformation” hasn’t turned out to be a positive.

This is what happens when people with money and power who have no experience in education make decisions for the rest of us. Nice goin’ Arne.


7 comments on “Race to the Top is a Race Off a Cliff

  1. Sandra
    November 21, 2011

    Thank you for bringing parent opposition and resistance out of the shadows. This specific blog was powerful. I nominated Seattleeducation2010 for the 2011 Edublogs Awards.

  2. Ayn Marie
    November 9, 2011

    Once again, evidence is produced that shows that decisions being made by those with power are not those that benefit students, parents or teachers. So what’s new?

  3. seattleducation2011
    November 7, 2011

    I know. A waste of precious resources in terms of money and the energy of teachers and staff.

    It’s also difficult to think of what effect it had on students who didn’t need this kind of “disruption”. How cruel and stupid.


  4. Sandra
    November 7, 2011

    The ed reformers call this disruptive innovation. I don’t see much innovation, but rather a whole lot of disruption. What a waste.

  5. Danaher M Dempsey Jr
    November 7, 2011

    “This destroys any possibility of building a family atmosphere. It causes so much distrust.”

    Try this from Page 13 …..

    It found that highly-qualified teachers facing high accountability pressures in schools rated as low-performing are more likely to leave schools than those teachers in highly-rated schools with low accountability pressures.

    Translation: Who needs this (high accountability on unrealistic goals using invalid measures) crap I am leaving.

    From …
    Julian Vasquez Heilig*
    Heather A. Cole**
    Marilyn A. Springel***

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