Saturday, March 06, 2010

Fifteen states, D.C. are Race to the Top finalists

It was announced this week that fifteen states and Washington, D.C., have been selected by the Department of Education as finalists from a pool of 41 applicants in the federal Race to the Top grant competition. They are now closer to obtaining a piece of $4.35 billion for education. Other finalists are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee. Officials expect to announce no more than six winners next month. A second round of competition will take place this year. (also check out The Wall Street Journal)

As soon as my RSS feeds received the news, I immediately checked the Race to the Top application of our district. I found that it is "bold and brave" and it states many of the necessary ingredients for 21st century education that if implemented effectively and collaboratively has the potential to transform the school district's culture of teaching and learning. Who wouldn't want quality and job embedded professional development for teachers, innovative classroom resources, and world class instruction taught by effective educators in every school in DC? We all want to see this happen!

But what is wrong in the picture? The application ties up 50% of the student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Part of the application states: "DCPS worked with the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) to obtain its support for the Race to the Top application, but the WTU opted not to sign on. The application - including its initiatives and goals - is bold, aggressive, and uncompromising, and while the union opted not to support the proposal, the Distict strongly believes that a broad base of reform-oriented teachers and leaders support the DC RTTT plan".

I commend our WTU President George Parker for not giving his support to something that is going to hurt our teachers and students in the long run. Our educators do not deserve all the blame for low school performance because there are other factors that contribute to a school's failure that even the highly qualified and the most effective teachers cannot overcome. Teachers should not be held solely accountable for poor student test scores. I wish we have the right evaluations that measure what our diverse learners and exceptional needs students know and are able to do. I feel that we are also setting up our students to fail when we don't have the right evaluations that measure what they are learning while considering their strengths, weaknesses and special needs.

I believe that the goals as stated in the application are great but overall is based on false assumptions, and having them implemented effectively is another story. I wish our policy makers had deeply involved the educators and sincerely listened to us (and to those who represent us) when making decisions on what is best for our students that we, teachers, truly understand.

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