Archives for category: Race to the Top

Politico,com reports that the states are working to reduce testing. Do you believe it? Color me skeptical. As long S NCLB and Arne’s waivers threaten school closings and teacher evaluations based on test scores, how can any state cut down on testing?

STATES CONSIDER CUTTING TESTING: The Council of Chief State School Officers sent states a survey earlier this year and recently revealed [] one of their findings: At least 39 states are working to reduce unnecessary testing in various ways. That might include establishing a task force, surveying existing tests, gathering feedback from educators and more. Last October, CCSSO and the Council of the Great City Schools announced an effort to review testing across states and districts.

– Which states aren’t among the 39? According to CCSSO’s survey results: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Texas. But doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing – CCSSO stresses that some additional states have taken action since the survey was administered earlier this year. For example, North Dakota Superintendent Kirsten Baesler launched a task force to review the state’s testing options after glitches with the state’s Smarter Balanced vendor, Measured Progress, interrupted exams this spring. Some states took action prior to the survey and some may not have responded to the survey.

– Speaking of testing, a group of Florida state lawmakers wants Republican Gov. Rick Scott to dump this year’s testing results on the Florida Standards Assessment. Tampa Bay Times:

– And the California high school exit exam may be suspended immediately. EdSource:

For at least 15 years, federal efforts at “school reform” have focused on “fixing” the schools; now it is focused (fruitlessly) on teacher evaluation. One thing that is obvious: schools can’t be “reformed” by federal legislation. They can surely use federal money to reduce class size and to reduce spending gaps between districts and schools. But federal policies and laws like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have generated more disruption than school improvement.

Aurora Moore received her doctorate from Stanford, where she studied school improvement strategies. She concluded that the school is the wrong unit of analysis. A school is a building, a “pile of bricks.” In this post on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, she argues that federal policy has missed the most important variables in successful school improvement. While writing about “the myth of school improvement,” she does not say that it can’t be done and never happens, but that the federal government and “reformers” (privatizers) have rejected meaningful strategies and chosen to deploy failed strategies.

What matters most for genuine school improvement is what she calls “context stability” and autonomy. The irony is that federal policy and mandates actively weaken and destroy what matters most.

She writes:

“Variable 1: Context stability

The first variable is something that I call context stability. Context stability is a combination of low teacher turnover, stable leadership, and a demographically consistent student population. Context stability is also about having continuity in curriculum and materials, programs and program staff from year to year –or something that researchers studying Chicago schools called, “coherence.” If you dig deep into the research on effective and improving schools you find out that all of them had continuity in staff, leadership and student demographics during the period studied. Staff and leadership stability was a condition of effectiveness.

“Anyone who works in schools today can tell you that context stability is very uncommon, especially in schools deemed “in need of improvement.” Teacher turnover is an ongoing problem, particularly in schools serving large percentages of students living in poverty where the average teacher stays less than five years. And ironically, the federal School Improvement grants have convinced many district administrators that it’s a good idea to move school principals around. And in many locales, particularly urban ones with open enrollment policies and large immigrant populations, student demographics can change dramatically from year to year.

“And the real rub is that context stability itself doesn’t last forever. Most research about effective or improving schools is done in a 1-5 year period. Give me an effective school or improving school and wait three years. The effective principal or effective program will have gone, and it’ll be back to square one.

“Variable 2: Autonomy

“The other important variable we failed to consider is autonomy. During the previous eras of school reform people working in schools had much more control over their curricula, their technology and their programs than they did today. The research on Chicago’s improving schools was conducted during the 1990s during an unprecedented experiment in local school control. Nowadays districts and states often dictate what materials teachers can use, what programs they can implement, and even what page to be on in a pacing guide. Some researchers say that schools should be responsible for “crafting coherence” but in my experience, that’s more pie in the sky idealism than reality, particularly when district-school administrator power dynamics are involved.

“If you really think about it, schools are just buildings that have a constant and complicated flow of policies, programs and people moving in and out. School administrators and teachers have very little control of that flow of information, people and practices—they can only manage those things within the confines of district, state and federal policies.”

In an article in The Atlantic, Paul Barnwell describes how difficult it was for him when he was a new teacher assigned to a low-performing school.


In a span of three minutes, the group in room 204 had morphed from contained to out of control. Two boys were shooting dice in the back of the room, and as I instructed them to put their crumpled dollar bills away, several others took off their shoes and began tossing them around like footballs. Before I could react, one boy broke into my supply closet. He snatched handfuls of No. 2 pencils and highlighters and sprinted out of the room, slamming the door behind him.


He was 22 years old, and he was working in one of Kentucky’s most troubled, underperforming, and dysfunctional middle schools. He quit before Christmas. Eventually, he realized that the school needed experienced teachers and stability, but federal policy does not set a priority on either. In fact, NCLB and Race to the Top encourage churn, pretending to “fix” schools by firing principals and teachers and moving in new and often inexperienced teachers.


How can struggling schools attract experienced teachers? Combat pay has repeatedly failed; so has merit pay. The practice of tying teachers’ compensation to test scores will only make matters worse by incentivizing teachers to avoid the toughest schools.


He concludes:


I asked several of my public-school teaching colleagues from around the country—from New Hampshire to Washington—what it would take for them to voluntarily switch to the neediest schools in their regions. Julie Hiltz, an educator in Hillsborough County, Florida, with nearly 13 years of teaching experience, told me that the following would need to be in place: The ability to make local decisions, professional development designed and led in-house, more time for collaboration, and smaller class sizes, among other factors. Unfortunately, current guidelines for struggling schools under No Child Left Behind often disenfranchise administrators and staff.


Lauren Christensen, a social-studies teacher in the Waltham, Massachusetts, with six years of experience, currently works in a low-poverty school. I asked her if she’d voluntarily transfer to a high-poverty school in her area. “Maybe, she said, “but I would need to know that the whole school would be supported with a long-term commitment [from decision-makers]. I think the pressure of standard assessments and the stress put on educators to turn ‘failing’ schools around immediately might be too much to overcome.”


When I think back to my first year, I’m no longer bitter. I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions. But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.



As you probably know, No Child Left Behind saddled the schools with a heavy dose of annual testing from grades 3-8, and Race to the Top required states to use those test scores to evaluate teachers. Testing is out of control. The curriculum is narrowed, especially in schools that enroll low-income students, where the scores are lowest. Educators have cheated to save their jobs, and some lost their jobs, their reputations, and their freedom because they cheated.

No high-performing nation in the world has annual testing or evaluates teachers by test scores. The current revision of NCLB retains annual testing unfortunately. However, Senator Tester (ironic name) has written an amendment to change annual testing to grade span testing: once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school. My preference would be to have no federally-mandated testing at all, given how abusive this policy has proven to be. But grade-span testing is far preferable to annual testing.

Learn here how to support his sensible proposal. Write your Senator now. There is no time to waste.

Those who say that annual tests are needed to protect children of color, children with special needs, and English language learners have not looked at the racist history of standardized tests. These are the children most likely to be on the bottom half of the normal curve that governs standardized tests. They are the very children most likely to be labeled and stigmatized by the tests. What children need most are reduced class sizes, a rich curriculum, experienced teachers, fully resourced schools, and the opportunity to learn. This is what they need, not more testing. A test is a measure, not the goal or purpose of education. And it is a flawed measure.

Daniel Katz pulls together the events of the recent past and concludes that this has been a wasted era of school policy.

Both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are based on economic ideologies about incentives and sanctions that don’t apply to education. Both have interacted to distort the goals of schooling and both ignore individual differences and needs. We now know–and should always have known– that children are not molten pieces of lead waiting to be shaped or widgets waiting for commands.

Only one sector has thrived: the charter school industry.

Will we continue on this failed path or change direction?

One of Arne Duncan’s significant initiatives is the so-called “turnaround strategy,” which usually requires dramatic action, like closing the school, firing the principal, and firing all or most of the staff. This is the Shock Doctrine at work.

The strategy is disruptive and destroys careers, but Duncan continues to defend it.

The Obama administration’s favorite D.C. think tank–the Center for American Progress–reviewed the turnaround strategy and declared it a great success. CAP has regularly applauded all of Duncan’s initiatives. The president of CAP is John Podesta, who headed Obama’s transition team. He is presently chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Carmel Martin, previously an assistant secretary in the US DOE under Duncan is now executive vice-president for policy at CAP.

The National Education Policy Center, known for its reviews of think-tank reports, published a scathing analysis of CAP’s report.

“BOULDER, CO (May 11, 2015) — A recent report from the Center for American Progress claims to offer clear lessons about research-based, effective methods for turning around low-performing schools. A new review, however, concludes that these lessons are not supported by rigorous research.

Tina Trujillo of the University of California, Berkeley reviewed Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement: The Research on School Turnaround for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Trujillo, an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education, studies the political dimensions of urban district reform and trends in urban educational leadership. The report Trujillo reviewed was written by Tiffany D. Miller and Catherine Brown and published by the Center for American Progress.

Dramatic Action, Dramatic Improvement argues that the body of available research determines that bold actions are necessary for schools to improve measurably. The authors advocate for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) federal program to bring about the most effective methods for turning around low-performing schools.

The SIG program’s policies have a superficial appeal, given the unsatisfactory outcomes at these schools. But those policies, like the report, are based on unwarranted claims, are unsupported by rigorous research, and are in fact contradicted by the empirical evidence, Trujillo writes.

She points, for instance, to the claim that dramatic changes in staffing and management can spur fast and sustainable improvement. Such disruptions often lead to poor school performance, but this readily available research is not mentioned or addressed in the report.

In her review, Trujillo finds the authors’ rationale “narrow, incoherent, and misleading.” The report, she asserts, fails to incorporate lessons learned from plentiful research on school improvement, high-stakes accountability, and federally funded turnarounds.

“In the end,” Trujillo states, “schools, districts, and states that follow the report’s advice stand only to reproduce the unequal conditions that have led, in part, to their need for dramatic turnaround in the first place.”

A new paper by scholars Helen F. Ladd, Charles T. Clotfelder, and John B. Holbein analyzes the charter school sector in North Carolina.

The group give a brief history of charter schools in the state, which were capped at 100 until Race to the Top encouraged the Legislature to remove the cap altogether. As they show, the original charter schools enrolled mainly black students. As the sector grew, however, especially in the recent period, the charter sector has been increasingly segregated by race. It now enrolls more white students than black students. The test scores of entering students are higher than in the past.

As the authors summarize:

Taken together, our findings imply that the charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools.

It is indeed an irony that a policy fostered by the Obama administration (Race to the Top) has encouraged the growth of segregation, which appears to be a predictable result of market-based education. The policies of Race to the Top in this respect reinforce the preferences of the far-right political forces that gained control of the North Carolina legislature and governorship in 2010.

Even more troublesome is the effect of charters on the public school systems of the state, which continue to enroll the overwhelming majority of students.

As of 2014, charter school students accounted for 3.6 percent of all public schools students in the state, with the percentage of K-8 students (4.2%) being twice that of 9th to 12th grade students (2.1%). Although the overall percentages are low, they are far higher in some of the urban districts—currently, charter school students account for 15.1% of all students in Durham, 4.7% in Winston-Salem, 6.1% in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and 4.9% in Wake County Schools.

The authors write:

In this paper, we have said nothing about how the growth of charters in particular districts is likely to affect the ability of those districts to provide quality schooling to the children in the traditional public schools. That issue is currently an urgent concern in Durham County, for example, where the rapid growth of charters has not only increased racial segregation, but also has imposed significant financial burdens on the school district. One recent study found that the net cost to the Durham Public Schools could be as high as $2,000 per student enrolled in a charter school, although the precise amount differs based on the assumptions (Troutman, 2014). Major contributors to this burden are the fact that the charter schools serve far lower proportions of expensive-to-educate children than the traditional public schools and that the district cannot reduce its spending in line with the loss of students because of its fixed costs. In ongoing research we plan to investigate further the evolving financial and other implications of charter schools on districts’ traditional public schools.

Yong Zhao spoke to a general session at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education. His speech was spectacular! He was witty, informative, actually hilarious. The audience loved him.


I will not try to summarize what he said. You must watch yourself. Julian Vasquez Heilig introduces Yong Zhao.

This is one of the best presentations I have ever seen about education today. Don’t take my word for it. Judge for yourself.


Sit back and prepare to laugh out loud. If you don’t have time now, save it for when you have 45 minutes for sheer fun and intellectual pleasure. Then show it to your friends and colleagues. Show it to your local school board, your state board, your legislators. Share it with all who care about our kids and our society.

Thanks to videographer Vincent Precht.

Fred LeBrun, a regular columnist for the Albany-Times-Union, writes that the scale of the opt out movement sends a powerful message to the President, Arne Duncan, Governor Cuomo, “and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.” He wisely recognizes that the movement was an uprising by parents, who are sick of the test-driven, data-driven policies of the past dozen years and sick of the Governor’s demand to make the consequences of the test even harsher. Parents know that this means more resources devoted to testing, less time for the arts and other subjects and activities that their children enjoy. LeBrun understands that parents are fed up with No Child Left Behind, fed up with Race to the Top, and fed up with the politicians who blindly embrace the agenda of these policies that are so harmful to genuine education.

LeBrun writes:

That’s not just an opt-out movement anymore. It’s civil disobedience, and a step away from a growing stampede. That should make elected officials squirm, and they deserve it.

But we haven’t seen the half of it yet. This coming week those same children will go back to take three days of standardized math tests — or not.

How the numbers who didn’t take the English tests will impact the numbers taking the math tests will be illuminating. It’s hard to imagine anything but a tumbling effect. Reports have surfaced that those English tests had a number of questions that were ambiguous, poorly designed and written in language too sophisticated for the age level, yet again. One parent said that the tests seem to be about creating failure, not measuring learning. She likened the exams to child abuse. Of course, since these tests are endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, self-proclaimed guardian of our young minds, this couldn’t possibly be true.

Regardless how many show up for the math tests, what the parents have done so far is as strong a repudiation of national and state public policy as we have seen in a long time. These parents have given a resounding ”no” to the president, our governor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.

Well, the public is not having it. Not just here in New York, but across the country. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in progress right now will reflect enormous national pressures to change course from a reliance on testing and the linking of teacher evaluations and student achievement to those tests. Federal funding will not be connected to meeting any federal standards, as it is now.

Since 2009, when Race to the Top was launched, Arne Duncan has been an avid proponent of evaluating teachers by test scores. Some states evaluate teachers by the scores of students they never taught or subjects they don’t teach. To be eligible for Race to the Top money, states had to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores. To get a waiver from impossible mandates on NCLB, states had to agree to do it.

When Duncan testified, Congresswoman DeLauro asked if he was willing to rethink VAM. He responded that the federal government doesn’t require VAM. Duncan said that while the Feds don’t require VAM, they require evidence of growth in learning.

Sounds like VAM. Can anyone make sense of this?

*I had several spelling errors in the original post, due to composing it on my cellphone in a bumpy car-ride. I fixed them.


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