Sunday, January 17, 2010

Race to the Top? Really?

I haven't posted here in a while because I've been busy writing letters to my Senator and Congresswoman about the ridiculous "Race to the Top" grant that Obama's cabinet is trying to foist on the American people as a good thing. It's not.

The goals of the grant look good on paper:

  • Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals;
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

Who doesn't want to make education better? Who doesn't want American students to become competitive with international students in achievement? Everyone is agreed that we want our schools to be the best they possibly can be. But the way the Obama administration is going about this is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It's even worse than Mr. Bush's No Child Left Behind plan--a feat that I didn't even think was possible.

Mr. Obama said, “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group. Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant.”

Sure, sounds great right? The big problem is that Mr. Obama's "best data available" is utter crap. The data is flawed from the moment the test is created, and therefore all information gleaned from that test is useless. The only results that will come from this "Race to the Top" are that the government will wind up driving good people away from the profession. I am a damn good teacher and I love my job (at least, I would if I could cut out all the ridiculous paperwork and just focus on teaching my kids).

Here's the deal with test scores: if you teach at a traditionally high-achieving school you're screwed because the plan looks at growth from one year to the next. Nevermind that a huge percentage of the students in your school are considered proficient or even advanced--they're looking for growth. Well, if you're already earning high scores, it's nearly impossible to show significant growth. My own child made several 99s and 100s on last year's achievement tests. There's nowhere for him to go from there. On the Math section of the test last year, he made 100s in five of the seven sections of the test. If he drops even one percentage point and makes straight 99s this year, his math teacher will be considered an ineffective teacher because his scores slipped. They won't look at the fact that only one percent of children across the country scored higher than he did, they'll only focus on the fact that his scores fell compared to his scores from the previous year. Isn't that insane?

We all know that the test itself is flawed, but even using the flawed system, my test scores were up last year. Not dramatically, but my class showed positive growth from the previous year. Would it be enough for me to be considered a "high performing teacher" under Obama's plan? I really don't know.

Read here (be sure to read the comments) and here if you want to learn more. Basically this grant will use scores on tests that are flawed and biased to determine teacher salary, tenure, and benefits--tests that are taken, in my case, by a group of nine- to ten-year-olds ONE DAY in spring, which falls EIGHT WEEKS before the end of the school year (which means that we have to cram 36 weeks of standards into 28 weeks of instruction) . Tests which have no influence on the students whatsoever, only the teachers and schools "performance evaluation," and both kids and parents know this so they have no vested interest in achieving high scores.

Even assuming that this legislation makes Tennessee competitive enough to be in the running for the grant (only five to ten states will receive any of the $4.35 billion so we have less than a 25% chance of seeing any of that money), it won't benefit MY school. It will go to help the "failing" schools. But the very data that identify a school as "failing" are screwed up. I wish my governor had just said, "No, Obama, you can keep your money. The hoops we'd have to jump through to qualify for the grant are not worth the effort and they're not in the best interest of our state's kids and teachers." But he didn't.

The law passed Friday night in Tennessee. I'm happy that my Senator voted against it; I'm disappointed that my Representative voted for it. I'm furious that my union compromised with legislators to make this law happen. I realize that it could have and would have been much worse without TEA's input, but I still question why the frick I'm paying $500 to be a member of a union that's just going to roll over and let the legislators walk all over them. I'm angry that my job security is potentially on the line because of people in government who have no idea what goes on in our schools.

Bottom line: I'm scared. I'm pissed off. It makes me seriously wonder why I bother. But, I love my students and I love teaching. I just hope the bureaucrats don't drive me away from it.

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