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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Report on Race to the Top Finds Many Wrecks in the Ditch or Over the Cliff

EPI and The Broader, Bolder Approach have an important important report on how things are going with Race to the Top (RTTT), or as it may be more aptly known, HUAP (Hurry Up and Privatize).  In examining what the states have done to get some of Arne's 3.4 billion bucks, the authors find confusion, conflict, corruptionism, confoundedness, and cautious dread (that's as optimistic as it gets in RTTT land these days).

In looking at the how bonus bribe points for RTTT grant applicants were stated, I have responded (after each below) to what this has meant in the RTTT golden state of Tennessee, where the first grant of $501 million was handed out by judges approved by the Gates Foundation.  With another $90 million going directly to Memphis from the Gates loose change drawer, Tennessee has since exploded with policies and practices antithetical enough to good education practice and friendly enough to CorpEd to earn the Seal of Approval by Arne Duncan.

To obtain points, states had to commit to specific changes:
  • Develop teacher (and principal) evaluation systems that substantially rely on measures of student achievement and growth. States thus promised to develop strong data systems that would enable them to assess student progress and achievement and to evaluate teachers based in part on these data, using “value-added” measures that purport to assess teachers’ impact on student learning, distinct from other factors. These systems would eventually collect data based on the new, higher standards that states also had to adopt: 40 points out of the 500 were contingent on developing and adopting standards based on the Common Core State Standards, and RTTT is widely credited with spurring rapid adoption of the Common Core across almost all states (40 states competed in the first round of RTTT).
Just weeks before the RTTT Bribery Scam was announced in the Fall of 2009, the National Research Council and the National Academies of Science sent a 19 page letter to Arne Duncan that warned him that value-added measurements were not reliable enough to use for high stakes purposes.  What resulted in Tennessee was quick adoption of all the RTTT priorities by special legislative session in January 2010, including a Rube Goldberg model for teacher evaluation based on value-added scores, as documented by Michael Winerip.  

Teachers are now rated on a 1-5 scale based on value-added scores and observations that have been fine tuned to align with the test scores.  According to local teachers, the screws are being tightened each year now to make increase the number of 1s and 2s and decrease the numbers of 4s and 5s.  Where teachers teach subjects that aren't tested, their scores depend upon the school's overall scores, rather than their own.
    • Strengthen teacher preparation programs and improve access to and quality of professional development programs.
    This has led to closer alignment of teacher ed curricula with how to take and pass tests and how to use "data." Teacher ed programs are now rated on how well their graduates raise test scores.  The state plans to follow CorpEd's initiatives to weed out teacher ed candidates with lower ACTs or SATs, which guarantees to have a whitening effect to the surviving teacher ed programs.
    • Identify alternative routes to certification in order to remove barriers to teaching for potentially strong teachers who might be impeded by existing systems or processes.
    No problem.  Tennessee now has no caps on TFA, TeachPlus, TeachMemphis, and other start-ups where white girls, primarily, with no training are replacing teachers, particularly in Memphis's poorest schools.  The Walton Family Foundation just coughed up over $2 million in TN, alone, to pay the TFA home office cut for 550 new TFA teachers in Tennessee.  Over 200 new TFA beginners started work in Memphis this year.

    Hundreds of real teachers in Memphis have been "surplussed" before the term was changed to "excessed," as a result of the Gates plan to turn urban Memphis into another New Orleans charter system.  Almost 200 of the "excessed" teachers are Level 4 or Level 5, which very nearly matches the number of TFA temps that started this year in Memphis.  This was posted at Facebook back in May by a Memphis teacher:
    . . .a couple hundred excess teachers, including me, were herded into lines, in a hot hallway, to schedule short interviews with Principals of listed schools. Almost immediately, interview spots were called as filled at several schools. I got 1 interview, the only interview left for a position I qualify for. There were several hundreds behind me in line, I would say I was with in the first 50-70 in line... If not closer. So I leave a bit and come back for my 11:30 interview. On the door hung a sign that said "filled" and the position scribbled out. I returned to the Teach Memphis staff who said, "yeah, that position was already filled" and unapologetically invited me to the Networking Session at 1pm to leave my resumes with principals of schools that didn't have interviews spots available. I will go, and I will go tomorrow. But this seemed like a humiliating waste of time for professionals. . . 
    • Identify and turn around the lowest-performing schools, using one of several strategies along the lines of federal school improvement grants. Strategies include firing the principal and/or much of the staff, turning the school over to a charter or other outside manager, or closing it altogether.
    With the impetus from RTTT to focus on the bottom 5 percent of test scoring "priority" schools, Tennessee has an ongoing supply of charter targets (there will always be a bottom 5 percent).  With over 50 charters now and most of them located in Memphis, another 13 public schools have been put up for corporate auction for next year by the Achievement School District, a district on paper only, as it functions as Commish Huffman's state office that hands out charter contracts for schools that are being turned over for corporate control. 

    So bottom line:  While the EPI Report finds many shortcomings in terms of results of RTTT, I would argue that RTTT has been wildly successful from the standpoint of the people who put it together.  Until we all come to realize that CorpEd does not believe any of their rhetoric about educational rights, civil rights, teacher quality, blah blah, and that their motivation is corporate takeover of schools, social control through testing, and the crushing of the teaching profession, then we will continue to tsk, tsk about what a failure RTTT has been.  IT HAS BEEN A HUGE SUCCESS FOR CORPORATE EDUCATION REFORMERS!!


    1. Thanks for the links to the National Research Council and the National Academies of Science, and the Facebook link. Its time for everyone to read what Duncan ignored. I'm wondering if Memphis will end up being the biggests of the big fiascoes causes by millions of new dollars for reform.

    2. Memphis is Ground Zero right now, just as New Orleans was a few years back. The local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, is in the pocket of the Gates people, who are still running the show.