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Over the Top: Winning Strategies for the Race to the Top Fund

16 November 2009 15,851 11 Comments

Education Week just published a revised version of this post, you can read it on its website:

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  • Michael Josefowicz said:

    I found your blog from a tweet and am glad I did.

    I would be very interested in any reactions to using the Bologna initiative in the EU as a basis of standards and the following notion:

    We agree that trying to measure “learning” or “content mastery” as a high stakes indicator of the success of an educational enterprise output is deeply counter productive. It makes common “sense” because of the evolved function of “education” to filter and norm train.

    High stakes tests continue to get traction because of the status derived from getting a certificate that is meant to point to some competency. In this sense HS diploma, BA, MA, PhD are similar. The new reality is that the certificates have been devalued because of the business models that incents the growth of “higher education” and the meme that “college” is the magic bullet for a better paying job.

    My hypothesis is that a way out of this problem is to eliminate the use of number grades. They make essentially meaningless fine distinctions. Replace them with fail, pass, pass with distinction, pass with honors.

    More useful metrics for school success might then be based on unambiguous events. Things like rates and direction of change in dropouts and attendance.

    From the students point of view, the minimum standard for passing is to show up and do your work. The issue for passing is not based on the “quality” of the work, but the fact that it was regularly done in a timely matter. “Don’t show up, don’t do the work, you fail.” No discussion. Clear standard.

    Tests can then be free to be used to reveal problems both in learning and teaching. “Distinction” and “honors” could be determined by the complex judgments of experienced teaching professionals.

    The politicians would be happy because they have a number. The admins would be happy because they have a clear signal of success. The teachers would be happy because they could use tests in the service of learning.

    I apologize for the long comment, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to get this your radar and hear any thoughts you might have.


  • Stephen Krashen said:

    These are great ideas but they don’t go far enough. Let’s push ahead and lengthen the school day, as the administration suggests.

    A study published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results in 1991 concluded that a 21-hour school day is optimal, with continuous classes and no breaks, except for two breaks for meals and one lavatory visit. Among the many advantages would be fewer discipline problems and quieter classrooms because of sleep deprivation, which “lessened the students’ rebellious impulses.”

    The researchers also intend to do studies to determine whether food is really necessary for school children.

  • Bill Ivey said:

    Another suggestion: Remember that children should be seen and not heard. Remember they know nothing and adults know everything. And if they will not gobble up the nuggets of information we feed them, force it down their throats. After all, isn’t this how we get foie gras?

    Don’t forget to complain about how “kids these days” don’t want to learn.

    And be sure to ignore all the research that says honoring and respecting student voice leads to intrinsic motivation, which research in turn says is far more effective than extrinsic motivation.

  • Dr. Malinda Daniel said:

    Thank you for your perspective and I am trying to organize a coalition that will truly change how we educate students. We have to develop constructivist thinking and move back to the empowering curriculum that provides a foundation for thinking in schools. We must repower and revolutionize our schools.

    I have taught school as an elemetary reading specialist and special educator for 15 years. We must have culturally relevant education that inspires creativity in all learnes even those considered “uneducable” but only functional. With the right expectations we can change this nation. Please review my book at

  • Mike Murray said:

    Standardizing the process and the assessments to get a standard product at the end of the line assumes we have standard students coming into our schools. After 39 years in the business, I have yet to see a standard student. Each one appears to me to be unique.

  • Lorraine Richardson said:

    The “Race” to the Top is an indefensible status quo of No Child Left Behind. I abhor the term “Race” because it denotes winners and losers. Who will be at the botton and who will be at the top? Is this a horse race?

  • Georgia Hedrick said:

    ALL PRAISE AND GLORY, TO YOU! Young man! Well said, and poigniently so–oh forgive my spelling as I went through schools long ago that emphasized ideas first–so very much so.

    I am 70. I am proud to be 70. I taught for 37 years. I will never teach again, not in today’s educational mind-set. I tried tutoring kgers, and then I saw that they were being taught with the content of first graders and I just couldn’t be part of that. I am a kg-tutor drop-out.

    I write and illustrate children’s books, but there is no market for books. No one reads such as I write and draw. I don’t think I fit the standards. I write for the joy of it. I draw for the joy of it.

    There is no joy in schools today. Joy is a lonely commodity these days.
    All that matters is: numbers locked inside test scores.

    These are truly times that try my soul…gh/alma

  • Todd Drummond said:

    What is most surprising about “Race to the Top” and the Obama administration’s education policies is the “silence” which with they have been received by the education community. If these latest proposals had been articulated by the Bush administration – especially the idea of tying teacher merit pay to student test scores (value added assessments or not) – the outcry would have been boisterous and immediate.

  • K Quinn said:

    Todd Drummond –

    I would have to say I disagree with you about the purported “silence” of the education community and what the reaction would have been if the proposals had come from the Bush administration.
    Many of these ideas are not new and DID come out during the Bush administration, but were not enacted (luckily) for various reasons. Many of us have been yelling for years – at the top of our lungs – about NCLB and the effects on our classrooms and our students and we didn’t stop when the regime changed. Alas, when teachers speak up, we are labeled ungrateful, whiners, lazy, etc. We (and our unions) are the scapegoats for all that ails the public education system in the United States, a theme that is repeated in the NCLB handbook for parents, NCLB legislation, in the media, and in politics – including the Obama administration. Most political leaders don’t want to hear from teachers; if they appear to be listening to teachers, then they are labeled a union sympathizer, a liberal, etc. It is far better – and easier – for them politically to proclaim that the public education system is a failure and promise to fix it with accountability and standards and the favorite phrase – parental choice. It is among the most basic of fear-mongering techniques to prey upon a parent’s fear for their child’s future. As for the news – they get far more out of a story in which a district/school/teacher does something wrong than they would out of the myriad of stories about what they get right. When was the last time you saw/read something in the news that celebrated public education rather than bashing it? Thus in many ways, the education community has been silenced, even though it hasn’t been silent. (Search for Teachers’ Letters to Obama on Facebook for starters)

    Many of us are tired, worn down, and demoralized by the constant teacher bashing in the newspapers and on the web; the frequently shifting standards that force us to readjust our curriculum yet again; by the change from a progressive pedagogy to a transmissive pedagogy in order to cover all the content necessary for those all-important tests – the ones that are such a good measure of what our students know and how well we teach. We are disheartened by the lack of joy in the classroom when art is relegated to a once-a-month activity, when music is cut due to lack of funding, and when social studies and science are fill-in subjects rather than core subjects, and when our class sizes creep higher and higher each year. We are horrified when a district decrees that recess is to be abolished because test scores are not high enough, even though recess is the only safe time many of our students have to play outside. We are appalled when we are told that our worth as a teacher can only be measured by a student test score; meanwhile we are trying to feed, clothe, and nurture some of these same students because they live in abject poverty and certainly aren’t ready to learn, let alone take a test. Some of the voices have left education because they could not bear to watch what was happening. Others have opted to bury their heads in the sand and hope this all goes away. However, a good portion of us are still yelling at the top of our lungs about the destruction of public education in the United States. Whether or not anyone is listening remains to be seen.

    Ironically, my current state of residence, the home of the Gates foundation and Bill Gates, is not currently eligible for these funds because we do not allow charter schools, vouchers, or compulsory state takeover of failing schools, nor do we allow student test scores to be used in teacher evaluations. I suspect this will be changing soon, as the legislature and the governor have opted to apply for the money. Thus in my state, there will be a marked increase in the teacher bashing discourse (lazy teachers afraid of accountability because they might have to do their jobs, the public school system is full of bad teachers that the union protects), with the right-wing Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the Seattle Times leading the way. Nothing like being thrown under the bus wheels for a pot of money with a million non-scientifically-based-research strings attached. But believe me, we won’t go down quietly. A bad idea is a bad idea, no matter whose administration it comes from.

  • said:

    I think we should do away with the public option in education altogether! Instead, we should model ourselves on the health care system. The US already has a massive educational-industrial complex of textbook publishers, consultant, and lobbyists. We teachers need to see ourselves along the model of physicians-entrepreneurs and insist on a pay-per-procedure model for educare. You want your child to have a spelling list: $5. A lesson on a 5-paragraph essay: $25. You want me to correct that 5-paragraph essay? No prob, that’ll be another $25. A one-on-one writing conference? $50. We could start selling education insurance to mitigate those unexpected problems like IEPs. The Wall St. Journal would be so happy! Who needs public education anyway?

  • Chip Wood said:

    Winners and Losers

    Race to the Top is terrible policy whipped out with lightening speed in the stimulus frenzy with the arrogant assumption that the promise of $$$ for desperately needed resources by “underperforming” (under-resourced) schools and states can be the carrot to produce meaningful change in the extraordinarily complex reality of PK-12 public education. It will. Many unhealthy consequences for our nation’s children. Half the money will be skimmed off the top by state departments to implement the technocratic mandates of assessment and accountability. The small grants that will make it to the school level will clog teaching and learning arteries with the plaque of multiple initiatives and mandates that will hike up test scores like dow jones averages but further dim the lights in children’s eyes.

    As a child development advocate with 40 years in schools as my vocation, I thank you for the sanity of your critiques. I also appreciate the intelligence, wit and wisdom of other bloggers here.

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