Education Findings: Update

by allthingsace

What's Happening?

This article, out of the Chicago News Corporation, is from January 16, 2010, just three days before the Race for the Top applications were due. Reading over it I found a familiar tune, which reads:

State education officials say they cannot walk away from new money. Illinois’s application for the grant competition seeks money to help improve systems for tracking student achievement and evaluating teachers and principals. The state also seeks money to improve underperforming schools.

While Illinois is looking to collect up to $500 million, the Providence Journal reports that Rhode Island has sent in an application for $125 million, with very similar, if not identical promises for education reform.

The 370-page proposal calls for ambitious reforms that would change every aspect of public education in Rhode Island. It demands improvements in teacher quality and student achievement, especially in the state’s worst schools.

After reading the article from Chicago it seems even more apparent that the Race to the Top money seeks to “reform,” education by instituting new evaluation methods for teachers and students, that may or may not produce accuracy. I am waiting for the article that outlines these evaluations, how they are different from current evaluations and how they will potentially initiate, improve, or incentivize increased teacher and student performance.
I think I just might agree with Texas when the The New York Times reported that,

Texas will not compete for up to $700 million in federal education money, Gov. Rick Perry said on Wednesday, calling the Obama administration’s main school improvement grant program an unacceptable intrusion on states’ control over education.

First, I would like to make a disclaimer; I do not pay attention to the Republican banter going on in Texas. However, given the nature of the framework that the federal government is setting up for this particular grant, I think it may be more of an attempt at rebuilding the wheel rather than teaching a poor man how to fish.
In terms of progress, I think rebuilding something that may or may not be broken but that needs more attention, is not the most efficient route. Specifically, the Chicago article points out the deficit that will occur as a result of the Race for the Top money that is allocated specifically for assessment and evaluation programs rather than existing programs that have been floundering since the before the recession. Every state will see this happen, if they have not already; for example, the expiration of Title I money will eliminate jobs and programs that have had a positive impact on education.
A wise man once uttered this mantra, “What do we want? What do we have? What do we need?” This mantra works backwards and requires one to state a desire, but then insists that one meditate on that thought by sitting back and assessing what there is and where the holes are. This seems to be a good strategy for problem solving and damage assessment. It seems to be a method that will not just patch up the leak, but prevent further water damage.
The intention of the Race to the Top grant appears vindictive in its attempt to use student evaluations to inform teacher salaries and teacher evaluations to inform… I don’t know. The federal government, through this grant has set up a criteria, which States, in order to participate, must fall in line with. Texas won’t. Chicago seems hesitant but desperate; and finally, Rhode Island, save for the Chariho school district and the National Education Association of Rhode Island union, is all for it. Are we falling in line? What will happen to existing programs enabled by Title I funding? How is Race to the Top a sustainable education reform option?
I am posing this post to Rhode Island’s education commissioner, Deborah Gist to see if she has a response for what has been said. I am very interested to hear from her and hopefully she will inform me and my readers of the intricacies of this Race for the Top grant and answer some of the question that arise when thinking about education reform, and program sustainability that contributes to high performance.