"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, October 05, 2009

Little Research and Less Science to Support Race To The Top Agenda

The Race to the Top (RTTT) appears more and more to be a Race over the Edge (ROTE). No one, conservative or progressive, outside the Broad and Gates green zones (where the money is) believes even an ounce of the propaganda tonnage that has been launched by the Oligarchs to justify the corporate takeover of American education. Clips from a piece in Ed Week by Debra Viadero:
. . . .With recently published draft guidelines for federal economic-stimulus money and Title I aid, critics are beginning to ask whether much has changed under the Obama administration.

“What is extraordinary about these regulations is that they have no credible basis in research. They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by the people in power,” writes Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, in her blog, Bridging Differences, which is hosted by edweek.org. She served as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for educational research and improvement under President George H.W. Bush.

For their part, department officials are not yet answering the criticism. They did not respond to repeated requests from Education Week to address such complaints.
. . . .

The lack of research reflected in some of the department’s school-improvement initiatives is a disappointment, though, to researchers and advocates who were encouraged by President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day pledge to “give science its rightful place” in government decisionmaking.

An ‘Opposite Approach’
Both the Bush administration and President Obama “have supported using data to determine ‘what works,’ ” economists Sean P. Corcoran and Joydeep Roy of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute write in a letter filed in response to the proposed guidelines for the $4 billion Race to the Top fund, part of the economic-stimulus legislation. Yet, in some areas, they say, the proposed rules “take the exact opposite approach.”

In particular, Ms. Ravitch, Mr. Corcoran, Mr. Roy, and scholars such as Duke University’s Helen F. Ladd oppose two priorities at the heart of the program that they say lack research evidence: evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores and promoting the growth of charter schools.

“One theory of action seems to be that holding teachers more accountable for the gain in their students’ test scores will induce them to become better teachers,” writes Ms. Ladd, a professor of public-policy studies and economics. “At this point, I am not aware of any credible evidence in support of that proposition.”
. . . .

Skepticism of efforts to evaluate educators based on their students’ test scores was not universal among academics, though. “We strongly support the focus of the Race to the Top program on teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in distribution of effective teachers,” wrote eight academics in a comment letter submitted by Thomas J. Kane, a professor of education and economics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and the deputy director of research and data for the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education program. . . .
If you cannot believe economists about the economy, we must wonder how much credibility should be given economists about something they know even less about--especially when they work for the same corporatists who are behind the current takeover bid of American education.
Thin and Thinner
The evidence behind Race to the Top’s call for giving priority to states that don’t impose caps on the growth of charter schools, likewise, is far from definitive, various commenters said.

Recent studies in Boston and New York City have found that charter school students outperform regular public school peers who applied to charter schools but failed to win a seat. But a study of charters in 15 states and the District of Columbia by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that students in more than 80 percent of the charter schools performed the same as, or worse than, students in regular public schools on mathematics tests. Achievement from school to school was highly variable, the study found. ("N.Y.C. Study Finds Gains for Charters," Sept. 30, 2009.)

The American Educational Research Association, a Washington-based group that represents 25,000 education researchers, notes in its Race to the Top comments that “there has been much less research about the turnaround strategies identified in the proposed regulations than about charter schools, and, consequently, even less is known about conditions required for their success.”

Yet the Education Department, in both the proposed Race to the Top rules and in draft regulations governing the spending of $3.5 billion in new school-improvement aid for the nation’s 5,000 worst-performing schools, spells out specific interventions states should use to qualify for the funding. They range from implementing a mandatory basket of “transformation” strategies to closing the school and sending students to higher-achieving schools to “restarting” the school by turning it over to a charter- or education-management organization. . . .
All entirely without data to support the new educational empire where all decisions are data-driven. Are you lost in the funhouse, too? I am.

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