Thursday, December 18, 2014

Race to the Top Priorities

The giant turkey that is Race to the Top has its neck on the chopping block. I would not celebrate just yet-- a proposed budget is about as solid and secure as the sticker price on a used car. But at the very least, the CRomnibus bill is a shot fired across RttT's bow.

So that (and, you know, Throwback Thursday) make it a great time to go back to this document, the executive summary of RttT. The summary includes a list of judging criteria for RttT applications, including the point value for each one, and while they are arranged by categories, I thought it might be useful to arrange them in point order, form the most points to the least. As with any rubric, the point assignment reveals what the real priorities are. So let's see where RttT's heart really lay.

Articulating State's education reform agenda and LEA's participation in it (65 points)
Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
Blah blah blah promoting charters (40 points)
Turning around the lowest-achieving schools (40 points)
Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain plan (30 points)
Demonstrating significant process in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)
Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
Fully implementing statewide longitudinal system (24 points)
Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high quality assessments (20 points)
Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)
Using data to improve instruction (18 points)
Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
Bonus points for STEM emphasis (15 points)
Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
Making education funding a priority (10 points)
Accessing and using State data (5 points)
Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)

You can see that the A #1 priority was to generate a good batch of paperwork and a well-polished application, because paperwork is the lubricant that greases the wheels of government. Close behind is a tautological statement (meaning "improve teacher performance based on performance" because silly bureaucrats are silly) that presumably means "get some kind of VAM system in place." The teacher effectiveness piece was worth more than the bottom six items put together; teacher effectiveness plus good paperwork is about equal to the last ten items on the list. Both are broken down in further detail in the document; the performance criteria boils down to "develop an evaluation system based on student test scores and use it to make personnel decisions (including "removing ineffective tenured and untenured teachers").

Next we get the other linchpins of RttT/waivers-- common core, charters, and turning around failing schools. Note that "turnaround" is worth four times as many points as "intervening." Making the funding for sustaining all of this a priority (which means, what, we promise to make serious faces about it-- how does anyone measure this) comes in close to the bottom. I was surprised that developing and implementing testing comes in close to the bottom, but I suppose you can just buy those, and their necessity is implied by all the top items, anyway.

The "move good teachers around" item (you know-- the one that absolutely nobody has figured out a plan for yet) comes in the middle of the pack. One does wonder what bureaucratic fiddling resulted in making that just one point more important than a statewide longitudinal system. How fascinating must that conversation have been?

These criteria are also arranged into six groups, and if we put those in point order, we get

Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
State Success Factors (125 points)
Standards and Assessments (70 points)
General Selection Criteria (55 points)
Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools (50 points)
Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)

But wait! The document also mentions the Big Priorities, which, as it turns out, don't entirely match the point system listed above, but which are ranked with fun language.

Priority 1:An "absolute" priority. The plan must be comprehensive and LEAs have to be all in.
Priority 2: "Competitive" This is the STEM bonus points.
Priority 3: "Invitational" Improve early learning outcomes. Which means you have to measure them, which means say howdy to standardized tests for four-year-olds
Priority 4: "Invitational" Ramp up your data system. In particular, make it connectable with other states' systems.
Priority 5: "Invitational" P-20 alignment, aka cradle-to-career pipeline.
Priority 6: "Invitational" Allowing school-level reforminess including control of staffing, budget, class alternatives, etc.

There's also a fun glossary of terms which didn't tell us anything new, but are good reminders of what the Department means. For instance, let's chase this definition-

Effective teacher means a teacher whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth (as defined in this notice). States, LEAs, or schools must include multiple measures, provided that teacher effectiveness is evaluated, in significant part, by student growth (as defined in this notice).

Student growth means the change in student achievement (as defined in this notice) for an individual student between two or more points in time. A State may also include other measures that are rigorous and comparable across classrooms.

Student achievement means —
        (a) For tested grades and subjects: (1) a student’s score on the State’s assessments under the ESEA; and, as appropriate, (2) other measures of student learning, such as those described in paragraph (b) of this definition, provided they are rigorous and comparable across classrooms.
         (b) For non-tested grades and subjects: alternative measures of student learning and performance such as student scores on pre-tests and end-of-course tests;student performance on English language proficiency assessments; and other measures of student achievement that are rigorous and comparable across classrooms.

Yes, when lost in the haze of debate and discussion, sometimes it's best to go back to the basics. Here it is-- exactly what the feds wanted. Good paperwork. A teacher rank and rate system based on student test scores that would drive everything from training. More charters. More school takeovers.

While the document says that RttT "will reward states that have demonstrated success in raising student achievement, that's not really what it rewards. It rewards states for remaking their education systems along the lines demanded by the feds. And though the document promised that the best models would spread their reform ideas across the country, five years later, there are no signs of any such spreading infection. But then, there are no signs that any of these federal ideas about fixing schools has actually improved education for any students in this country.

If Congress actually manages to shut this mess down, there will be no cause for tears.


  1. All the turmoil from these federal initiatives has got to take some toll on the student body. The testing and curriculum debacles are separate from the general awareness that something huge and unexplainable goes on behind the scenes as the students show up every day, trying to figure out if they feel like giving school their all or some other percentage of effort. But like parents who believe they can hide their marital problems from their kids, the leaders of the education industry believe they can manage to work out their issues without the students having any awareness of the bitterness, strife and even abuse that goes on behind the scenes. Can you imagine all the effort that went into applying for and winning these RttT grants, and then, within the span of one student's academic tenure, the whole thing is dismantled? Everyone was supposed to give 110% so the whole thing could fizzle out so quickly? Not that RttT was ever a good idea, or that it should continue, but this up-down, in-out, over-under, hither-thither, back and forth nonsense is in the air. The kids feel it. The kids will act out accordingly.

  2. NYSUT Writes To Cuomo, Tisch To Ask Why Charter Operators Get To Cancel School For A Political Rally. 2 hours ago ...