Jonathan Raymond, superintendent of the Sacramento City school district, has some lessons for New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.
Friedman recently raved about the success of Race to the Top, claiming that it was preparing students for the high-skill jobs of the new economy.
Raymond says this is wrong. Race to the Top is divisive and subjects schools to derision.
It is top-down, heavy-handed and undermines the collaboration needed to make genuine improvement.
States that promise to comply with Duncan’s heavy handed mandates are “winners” while those making progress without Duncan’s script are losers.
Meanwhile, school districts that are making real, tangible strides to increase student learning are left behind in this “race.” In Sacramento City Unified, we are turning around seven low-performing schools (called Priority Schools) through research-proven strategies for raising student achievement. Six of the seven schools have shown dramatic increases in student achievement and dramatic improvements in school culture and climate. These strategies include relevant professional development for principals and teachers; collaborative teacher planning time; data analysis and inquiry; and building strong family and community engagement. With federal funding, we could take this pilot program to scale statewide. California districts could build on each other’s successes and the gains of districts across the country. This is exactly what federal dollars should be spent on.
Yet Race to the Top’s scripted approach effectively discounts these reforms because they do not fit into the neat categories created by the prescriptive program. Moreover, forcing school districts to compete for badly needed resources is like offering a starving man food but only if he agrees to whatever strings may be attached. This is certainly the choice that school districts like ours face in California.