As stated by the Race to the Top website, $4 billion dollars is available:
Essentially what Race to the Top is asking states to do for a share of the money, is to adopt the charter school model. All of this despite the fact that charter schools show no significant improvements over public schools. Charter schools who do perform better than their public counterparts succeed for reasons unrelated to their model. Charter schools are allowed to be selective in whom they take. If you only accept English speaking, non-special education, and moderately proficient students, of course you will outperform a public school who must take anybody.
Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:
- Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
- Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
- Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.
Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.
One major component of the charter school model is "teacher accountability". Charter schools hold their teachers accountable to student growth on tests and assessments. Obviously, teachers must be able to demonstrate real growth and success with their students. The devil is with the details. How do you measure growth, and is the data valid and reliable? Testing 101 requires that assessments be valid, test what is taught, and reliable, no variables. Charter schools can guarantee reliability because they control who attends. Public schools do not. My district went from 20% non-English speaking, to 60% in 10 years. Our test scores leveled off, did not decline. I doubt a charter could match that. The validity of state and district tests is an obvious issue. My school is 80% non-white, whereas another in the district is 30%. What is taught in one school, may not be relevant in another. I chose to teach about homosexuality and the law. I felt as though that would be enriching and relevant to students growing up in such a diverse society. The other school chose to teach about Reagan and macroeconomics. No schools are the same, what is taught is not the same, and the students are not the same. How can the state use one test to guage growth for all schools. The assessments are not valid or reliable for the students, and teachers should not be held captive by the test taking abilities to teenagers.
Union busting is a major hidden reward in receiving Race for the Top funds. States that have stripped their teachers of tenure protection have won the first round. Tenure guarantees due process to teachers before they are fired. The problem is that administrators come and go as frequently as El Nino. One may like you, others won't. Tenure is meant to protect teachers from arbitrary reprimands or firings by administration. It allows teachers to take risks in the classroom, try new methods, and experiment. Tenure also attracts people such as myself to education. You are not paid well initially, and professional development, licensing, and education come out of pocket, but are required to keep your job. Tenure makes the stress and initial hardship of teaching much more bearable. If they are serious about attracting the best and brightest to education, stripping tenure is not the way to go.
More testing, and teacher busting is not the answer. This will drive away teachers, and take more time away from learning. What is the answer? Each school is different, but reducing class size, parent and student involvement, teacher training and development, and teacher-led reform and instruction always get results. Does this cost money? Yes. However, if states are willing to whore themselves out for money, why can't they do it for something that works.