Archives for category: Race to the Top

Set aside about 17 minutes and watch this wonderful video. Joshua Katz, a high school teacher, connects all the dots.

This is a truly outstanding presentation. Watch it and help it go viral.

He shows how our present “toxic culture of education” is hurting kids, stigmatizing them as early as third grade by high-stakes standardized testing, while the vendors get rich.

He connects the dots: the testing corporations get rich while our children suffer. He names names: Pearson, McGraw-Hill, ALEC, and more.

The high-stakes tests demoralize many children, label them as worthless, demand “rigor,” while ignoring the children before us, their needs and their potential. As he says, we are judging a fish by whether he can climb a tree and labeling him a failure for his inability to do so. We ignore the development of non-cognitive skills, of character and integrity, as we emphasize test scores over all else. By trying to stuff all children into the same standardized mold, we are hurting them, hurting our society, and benefiting only the for-profit corporations that have become what he calls “the super-villains” of education.

Laurel Sturt says that old-fashioned schoolyard bullying has evolved into Internet malice, protected by anonymity. She says bullying has become a national pastime for some political leaders. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has cultivated a reputation as a bully, jabbing his finger at lesser mortals.

And then bullying is built into education policy–federal, state, and local.

She writes:

“Though the psychopathic rush of inflicting pain on another human being is not one most of us would appreciate, we have only to look at the realm of education to see an acceleration of bullying, in multiple guises. Take, for example, the oppressive federal mandates sent down from on high, No Child Left Behind, and its successor, Race to the Top. Here we have, for all intents and purposes, sadistic edicts impossible to fulfill, the charge of NCLB, “proficiency” for all children by 2014, nothing short of an iron mask for teachers and kids alike; states were bullied to participate to get millions in federal school funding. One would think subjecting kids to the torture of test prep and testing while losing a decade of authentic education, tilting futilely at an arbitrary data windmill, would have been consigned to the mistakes file. Yet, showing that arm twisting through policy is an equal opportunity, bipartisan affront, through his Bully of Education Arne Duncan, the very premise of Obama’s RTTT has relied on the legalized notion of bullying, bribery and extortion: sign on to our agenda or you’ll starve for funds.

“Within the Race to the Top straitjacket, then, the bullying theme has continued with the individual mandates: bullying standards developed undemocratically by not educators but profit-motivated bullies; bullied instruction forced on teachers by these standards; and parents bullied to share their children’s private data, their rights to privacy stripped by education business lobbyist cum bullies. Then there’s the bullying of teachers through evaluations unfairly tied to the test scores of the bullied kids, victimized students who, subjected to impossible work and tests, are displaying symptoms of bullying–depression, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, hopelessness, with the added bonus of a PTSD scar for life.

“Move down to the next level of power, and state and local bullying is flourishing. Here in New York we have a governor and education officials stonily unmoved by the pain they’ve signed us onto with RTTT, with no movement in sight to end it, notwithstanding a coming fall election; their intransigent coercion in the face of hardship is bullying. New York City teachers and students recently endured a decade of bullying micromanagement under the dictator Michael Bloomberg, a mayor in control of the schools, a nationwide experiment which has yielded low achievement results but a much higher degree of yes, bullying.”

Bullying moves into the classroom, where teachers are compelled to violate their professional ethics by authoritarian principals.

The bullying will continue until teachers stand united and resist. Those who bully them, steal their reputations and their profession can and must be stopped. Resistance is the best defense against the bullies. Don’t stand alone. Stand together.

Arthur H. Camins, the Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, sharply critiques current education and social policy. He writes in this post that we have given up efforts to reduce poverty and segregation, policies that would produce the greatest number of young people.

Instead, our nation’s leaders are prepared to divert billions into more testing and Common Core, which is unlikely to reduce inequality.

Camins writes:

“If answers on Common Core assessment questions require supporting evidence, it is only fair that evidence-based reasoning should be an expected feature of public education policy. Apparently such consistency is not required when it comes to political decisions. Sadly, too many policy makers seem more committed to enabling profiteering from the results of poverty than ending it. The testing industry is an excellent example. Education policies sanction and encourage multi-billion dollar testing and test preparation corporations that enable destructive punishment and rewards for educators, gaming the system and sorting of students for competitive access to an increasingly unaffordable post secondary system that perpetuates inequity. State and federal education policies support costly, overly stressful and time consuming high-stakes testing in order to verify and detect small differences within the very large socio-economic disparities we already know exist.”

“Well-designed large-scale assessments can contribute evidence for institutional and program level judgments about quality. However, we do not need to test every student every year for this purpose. Less costly sampling can accomplish this goal. I am not opposed to qualifying exams- if they validly and reliably measure qualities that are directly applicable to their purpose without bias. However, imagine if we shifted the balance of our assessment attention from the summative to the formative. Then we could focus more on becoming better at interpreting daily data from regular class work and use that evidence to help students move their own learning forward. Imagine what else we could accomplish if we spent a significant percentage of our current K-12 and college admission testing expenditures on actually mediating poverty instead of measuring its inevitable effect. Imagine the educational and economic benefit if we invested in putting people to work rebuilding our cities, roads, bridges, schools and parks. Imagine if we put people to work building affordable housing instead of luxury high rises. Imagine the boost to personal spending and the related savings in social service spending if a living wage and full employment prevailed. Imagine the learning benefit to children if their families did not have to worry about health, food and shelter. Imagine if our tax policies favored the common good over wealth accumulation for the 1%ers.

“Such investments are far more logical than the current over-investment in testing and compliance regimes. Education, race and poverty are inextricably intertwined. Let’s do everything we can to improve teaching and learning. More students learning to use evidence to support arguments would be terrific. But, if we want to do something about poverty we need to ensure good jobs at fair wages for the parents of our students. That is where evidence and logical thinking lead.”

The centerpiece of Race to the Top is evaluating teachers by test scores. The students of good teachers, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama believe, get higher scores. If they have low scores, it is the fault of bad teachers. There was no evidence for their beliefs, other than the speculations of economists and statisticians. Real teachers never believed the theory, because they know that many favors affect test scores, not just teachers.

Thirty five states and DC followed Duncan’s lead, even though his hunch lacked any evidence . Lyndsey Layton has a comprehensive article in today’s Washington Post, describing the latest study to disprove Duncan’s theory.

Spurred on by Duncan, many states now use test scores to determine tenure and compensation. Duncan recently said he wants to judge the quality of teacher education programs by the test scores of students taught by their graduates.

Secretary Duncan’s love affair with standardized testing is inexplicable. There can be no question that he has caused immense damage to children, teachers, and public education.

Reader Christine Langhoff sent the following information about some “turnaround” schools in Massachusetts. Having won “Race to the Top” funding, the state has taken Arne Duncan’s advice to fire everybody and start over, which seems to be his deep thinking on how to improve schools, not through collaboration and steady work, but through fear tactics.


She writes:


The state of Massachusetts has recently taken over two Boston elementary schools. Each has been “turned around” (I think of it as churned) several times. This has included mass staff dismissals and new staff have been hand picked by new administration, yet the schools have remained as Level 4 schools. That the schools have populations of about 88% poverty, 40% English language learners and 20% SPED kids will surprise no readers of Diane’s blog. (Remember too, some number of these kids have hit a triple, i.e. they are members of all three groups: poor special needs kids who are learning English – is there a VAM algorithm for that?)


Under the state takeover, our state commissioner, Mitchell Chester (national chairman of PARCC) has unilaterally given both schools over to charter management organizations (Bluepoint and UP Academy) to run. The first move that has been made at the Dever School has been to kill the dual-language program. That no one with a linguistic background has been included in the decision is obvious; Chester seems to believe that instruction in languages holds back language development. (See: )


The second move has been to force teachers to work an extra 700 hours over the school year for a stipend which comes to $2.75 an hour. So who is going to staff the schools? Professional status teachers have been churned out. Other professional status BTU members are unlikely to volunteer for 700 extra hours at virtually no compensation. I’m at a loss to understand how education for some of our most needy kids is going to be improved.


Here’s a link to the state plan for the Dever. If you go to page 6, there’s a chart (which I could not paste here) with proficiency scores for ELA. They are unsurprising, given the school’s population. Actually, that 16% of 8 year old kids in such challenging circumstances score so well in a test in a language that is not their first is a testament to their teachers’ efforts and professional training.

A brilliant post by G.F. Brandenburg about NAEP scores.

Shows how little has been gained by the Bush-Obama demolition derby of testing, closing schools, firing teachers and principals, opening charters.

It is all a mighty failure that has not improved test scores or education


This NPR report summarizes the 12th grade NAEP report: Scores for high school seniors are flat. Reading scores in 2013 were lower than in 1992.


While there were small gains for each racial and ethnic group since 2005, there were no gains at all since 2009, when Race to the Top was initiated.


Achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups remain wide.


Secretary of Education gnashed his teeth and said the results were troubling, and he is right. The chair of the National Assessment Governing Board said the results were unacceptable, and he is right.


In mathematics, the states that made the biggest gains in proficient students were: South Dakota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire. Only one of these–Massachusetts–won a Race to the Top award.


Also in mathematics, the states that had a lower percentage of proficient students than the rest of the nation were: Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Florida. Two of the lowest performing states won Race to the Top awards: Tennessee and Florida.


In reading, the states that outperformed the nation were Idaho, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Dakota. Only one of these states–Massachusetts–won a Race to the Top award.


Also in reading, the states that had the lowest percentage of proficient students were: Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia. Tennessee won a Race to the Top award.


These twelfth graders started school about the time that No Child Left Behind was signed into law, on january 8, 2002. Their entire school lives has been dominated by testing. The survival of their school depended on their test scores. Billions and billions of dollars have been diverted from classroom instruction to testing corporations. Many districts have increased class sizes and reduced services to students. Some leave closed libraries and laid off librarian, social workers, counselors, and psychologists. Many thousands of teachers have lost their job. But the testing industry has grown to be a multi-billion dollar enterprise, fattened by NCLB and RTTT.


Secretary Duncan is right. This is indeed troubling. It is time to change course. The policies of the Bush-Obama era have failed.



Audrey Amrein-Beardsley noticed an interesting pattern among the states that won Race to the Top funding.

Most were states with highly inequitable school finance systems, as noted by the Education Law Center of New Jersey.

But Beardsley saw other correlations.

She writes:

“In this case, correlational analyses reveal that state-level policies that rely at least in part on VAMs are indeed more common in states that allocate less money than the national average for schooling as compared to the nation. More specifically, they are more likely found in states in which yearly per pupil expenditures are lower than the national average (as demonstrated in the aforementioned post). They are more likely found in states that have more centralized governments, rather than those with more powerful counties and districts as per local control. They are more likely to be found in more highly populated states and states with relatively larger populations of poor and racial and language minority students. And they are more likely to be found in red states in which residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party.”

These were the states most willing to evaluate teachers by test scores (VAM), despite the absence of evidence for doing so.

In Florida, teachers are given ratings based on the scores of students they never taught.


Teachers in several counties challenged the law in court.


The judge agreed that the system was unfair, but refused to overturn it.


Where teachers are concerned, Junk Science is just fine.


It is okay to rate a teacher based on the performance on tests of students the teacher never met, never taught.


This is “reform.” Thanks, Arne Duncan, for Race to the Top.


Thanks for introducing this insane, stupid policy into our nation’s schools.


The true education miracle will be if American public education can survive eight years of stupid policies like this one in Florida.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley has been consulting with the seven Houston teachers who filed a lawsuit in federal court against the use of value-added metrics in their evaluations.


She has conducted extensive VAM research in Houston and concluded it was arbitrary and inaccurate. “Houston, the 7th largest urban district in the country, is widely recognized for its (inappropriate) using of the EVAAS for more consequential decision-making purposes (e.g., teacher merit pay and in the case of this article, teacher termination) more than anywhere else in the nation.”


She believes that this is the lawsuit that has the potential to bring down VAM as a valid way of measuring teacher quality.


Read here to learn why.


If VAM goes down, as it should, it would be yet one more piece of evidence that Race to the Top is a $5 billion flop, as if any more evidence were needed.


Of course, even a court victory against inappropriate teacher evaluation would not deter our Secretary of Education from claiming victory. If he were on the basketball court, he would claim victory if his team were beaten 152-18; we would never hear the end of those heroic, astonishing, incredible 18 points.



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