Archives for category: Race to the Top

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.


President Obama chose Robert Gordon, who served in key roles in the first Obama administration, as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development in the U.S. Department of Education. This is a very important position in the Education Department; he will be the person in charge of the agency that basically decides what is working, what is not, and which way to go next with policy.


When he worked in the Office of Management and Budget, Gordon helped to develop the priorities for the controversial Race to the Top program. Before joining the Obama administration, he worked for Joel Klein in the New York City Department of Education.


An economist, Gordon was lead author of an influential paper in 2006 that helped to put value-added-measurement at the top of the “reformers” policy agenda. That paper, called “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job,” was co-authored by Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger. Kane became the lead adviser to the Gates Foundation in developing its “Measures of Effective Teaching,” which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop the formula for the teacher who can raise test scores consistently. Gordon went on to Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, which is the U.S. government’s lead agency for determining budget priorities.


The paper co-authored by this triumvirate championed VAM (value-added measurement, i.e., the use of student test scores to judge teacher “effectiveness”) as one of the key policy levers of reform. Here is the abstract:


Traditionally, policymakers have attempted to improve the quality of the teaching force by raising minimum credentials for entering teachers. Recent research, however, suggests that such paper qualifications have little predictive power in identifying effective teachers. We propose federal support to help states measure the effectiveness of individual teachers—based on their impact on student achievement, subjective evaluations by principals and peers, and parental evaluations. States would be given considerable discretion to develop their own measures, as long as student achieve- ment impacts (using so-called “value-added” measures) are a key component. The federal government would pay for bonuses to highly rated teachers willing to teach in high-poverty schools. In return for federal support, schools would not be able to offer tenure to new teachers who receive poor evaluations during their first two years on the job without obtaining district approval and informing parents in the schools. States would open further the door to teaching for those who lack traditional certification but can demonstrate success on the job. This approach would facilitate entry into teaching by those pursuing other careers. The new measures of teacher performance would also provide key data for teachers and schools to use in their efforts to improve their performance.


This paper, based on economists’ speculation about what works, became a justification often cited for the importance of minimizing teacher certification (“paper qualifications”) and factoring student test scores into teachers’ evaluations, which are a major–if not THE major–component of Race to the Top. The papers’ advocacy of opening the door to uncertified teachers has become a government priority, as shown by Arne Duncan’s award of $50 million to Teach for America (Gordon’s wife worked for TFA), although there is no evidence that TFA can replace the nation’s 3 million teachers and a growing body of evidence that TFA teachers are not more effective than other new teachers or veteran teachers. And since they are usually gone in two years, they have little lasting impact except to increase churn in the teaching staff.


Much has happened since Gordon, Kane, and Staiger speculated about how to identify effective teachers by performance measures such as student test scores. We now have evidence that these measures are fraught with error and instability. We now have numerous examples where teachers are evaluated based on the scores of students they never taught. We have numerous examples of teachers rated highly effective one year, but ineffective the next year, showing that what mattered most was the composition of their class, not their quality or effectiveness. Just recently, the American Statistical Association said: “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”). In a joint statement, the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association warned about the defects and limitations of VAM and showed that most of the factors that determine test scores are beyond the control of teachers.  Numerous individual scholars have taken issue with the naive belief that teacher quality can be established by the test scores of their students, even when the computer matches as many variables as it can find.



What we don’t know is this: Has Robert Gordon changed his mind in light of evidence undermining his belief in VAM?


Or will the Obama administration continue on its now well-established course, demoralizing veteran teachers, lowering standards for entry-level teachers, dismissing the professional preparation of teachers, and creating new opportunities for the inexperienced, ill-trained recruits of TFA?


Having met Robert Gordon and knowing him to be a very smart person, I am betting that he will help the Obama administration change course and inject the wisdom of experience into its policies. That’s my hope.



Reader Lloyd Lofthouse finds President Obama’s education reforms to be as unrealistic as those of George W. Bush. The basic theory of action is to set I reachable goals and to punish those who can’t reach them.

He writes:

“The Common Core high stakes testing that judges teachers, gets them fired and public schools closed took public education systems that operated based on individual state legislation with minimum or no standards and demanded the highest possible standards that have never been achieved anywhere on earth at any time in history without building a new system and implementing it over at least an entire generation—and maybe several generations.

“Instead, what Obama did with his Race to the Top and Common Core Standards was the same as expecting a 1908 Model T Ford that’s rated at a top speed of 45 mph to suddenly hit moon rocket velocity or face failure and behind sent to the dump. And to achieve this federally UN-Constitutional mandate, Obama did nothing to replace the Model T’s engine. Nothing!”

Yes, you read that right.

School officials in Elwood, Néw York, canceled a kindergarten play scheduled for May 14-15 because it would take time away from getting the little tykes “college-and-career ready.”

Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss called the school for confirmation. It sounded too crazy to be true.

But it is factual. The interim principal sent a letter to parents of children in kindergarten canceling the annual show. The letter said, in part, “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

A member of the district staff vouched for the letter’s authenticity.

This is nuts. Blame Duncan. Blame Obama. They know nothing about child development. Their poll-tested policies hurt little children. Their policies have no basis in research. Children need time to play. They need time to socialize. Five-year-olds should be allowed a childhood.


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