Multimedia about Race to the Top and its motives and goals
Archive for March, 2010
Despite 25 years of acclaim and success, principal Sue Brent was forced to make a decision about the crown jewel of Wilson High School, the child psychology program, which allowed high schoolers to teach a class of preschoolers preschool curriculum. The program was terminated last year, and is just one example in a growing number of budget cuts facing America’s floundering educational system and rapidly evaporating funding pool.
Funding has been a perennial problem for administrators and their schools. For years staff have had to scavenge for funding in order to keep crippled schools and programs alive, and in many cases even keep their jobs.
“I’ve seen countless programs fall off and tons of instructors lose their jobs in my school because of inadequate funding,” said Brent from her office in Southwest Portland.
President Obama announced last July an ambitious new program, Race to the Top, which promises more than $4 billion in federal grants to schools, but there is a catch. Schools must compete against each other for the funding. School instructors and administrators alike are worried that this new program is emerging as a new form of Darwinism, where only the strongest schools will survive.
“Not every school will win, and not every district will be happy with the results,” said president Obama when introducing the program.
President Obama is already requesting an additional $1.35 billion to push the program into 2011 and possibly further, despite the lack of results. The methods of competition will also change. Individual districts will be competing against one another for the grants instead of states.
Many politicians and organizations praise Race to the Top and its goals. It intends to employ internationally benchmarked standards and tests, target the ever-widening achievement gap, recruit and develop new teachers, build new data systems to measure student growth, and turn around the lowest performing schools in each state.
“Its goal is a good one: to spark smart and sustainable improvements in public education, particularly for struggling schools and struggling students,” said the American Federation of Teachers.
Despite the solid goals of Race to the Top, many administrators are concerned with the whirlwind initiative. Popular belief is the program approaches reform the same way as Adequate Yearly Progress and the No Child Left Behind Act.
NCLB sought a similar approach to Race to the Top: enacting theories of standards-based education reform, which call for clear, measurable standards on which students can be evaluated. Adequate Yearly Progress is how the U.S. Department of Education evaluates performance of schools on standardized tests.
The controversy surrounding AYP and NCLB is that it is said to encourage teachers to “teach to the test,” and not the developing student, articulated Martha Collins, principal of Village Elementary in Eugene, Oregon.
The most unique aspect of RTTT, outright competition, has also drawn criticism. Many are worried that pitting schools against each other will lead to an uneven playing field where the lowest-performing schools are destined for closure.
Inner-city instructors are saying that there is already an unequal playing field, and that floundering schools will find it hard to compete with better-funded schools that actually have the capacity to reform.
“I think competition to a certain degree is healthy, but when you talk about competition on an already uneven playing field, that to me is illogical,” said Mike Nolan, an instructor of ten years who has taught at both strong and struggling schools.
Many say that RTTT targets the wrong areas entirely. Showing students the connection between what they are doing in school and what they will be doing once they go into the world and addressing the social and emotional needs of students are common sentiments echoed by instructors and administrators alike.
The opinion is that if a school cannot cater to the emotional needs of a student or show them why they’re going to school, the student has no reason to pursue an education.
“A student may be completely capable academically, but if their social and emotional needs aren’t met, they end up dropping out, and that’s something Race to the Top does not address,” said Larry Dashiell, administrator of 30 years and principal of Robert Gray Middle School in Portland, Oregon.
High school dropouts have a large effect on the economy as well. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that dropouts from the 2006-07 class will cost the U.S. more than “$329 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity.”
That is a lot of money, especially considering that if Race to the Top fails in prompting students to graduate, it will continue increase each year.
The first round of Race to the Top grant distribution is drawing to an end, and the second is set for September. Brent, along with thousands of other administrators forced to make cuts to their schools, hopes to see her deceased program resurrected at the finish line and her funding pool refilled. Administrators had better lace their shoes up tight and get ready for a hard-fought competition.
Mike Nolan is a father of two and has been a school instructor for nearly a decade at both floundering and flourishing high schools. He has seen graduation rates across the nation plummet to abysmal standards, and he has seen the long-term effects of past education reforms.
The new multi-billion dollar Race to the Top initiative is one of the most ambitious reform programs in decades, seeking to have schools compete against each other for funding. The similarity of it with its predecessors, however, is beginning to raise eyebrows.
Nolan expressed concern for his children and students in America’s current educational system. “Increasing standards, holding teachers accountable, having better assessment, those are all things a confident teacher should be doing anyway… the notion that if you make a better test you make a better student, I don’t believe that.”
RTT targets several key areas of reform such as internationally benchmarked testing standards, holding the lowest-performing schools more accountable, and holding teachers more accountable. All of these topics however seem to mirror past efforts of initiatives such as the infamous No Child Left Behind Act.
“We are still based on this industrial mode of education where we are going to put out widgets into the world when we’re not really addressing the demographics and socio-economics of what’s going on. Populations change… It’s about numbers right now.”
“How do you compete with the Beaverton school district that’s building new high schools, while Portland Public Schools hasn’t built a new high school in over fifty years… I think competition to a certain degree is healthy, but when you talk about competition on an already uneven playing field, that seems illogical,” said Nolan when asked about RTTT’s intentions.
Only time will reveal the effects of RTTT. For the time being it seems overly ambitious to anticipate these effects as positive enough to make this program annual and make competitive funding a cornerstone of United States academics. All we can hope is that at the finish line is a soft landing for America’s educational free-fall.
Larry Dashiell, principal of Robert Gray Middle School, expresses great alarm along with administrators across the nation due to an abysmal graduation rate below 50 percent in America’s 50 largest cities.
Dashiell has over thirty-years administrative and teaching experience from both floundering inner city and elite K-12 institutions, and therefore knows a thing or two about possible reasons for this catastrophic statistic.
“If student’s social and emotional needs aren’t met, they will drop out… A student may be completely capable academically, but if these needs aren’t met then they will not have the drive to remain in school or even carry onto a college atmosphere.”
A brand new multi-billion dollar reform initiative, Race to the Top, intends to confront spiraling graduation rates by having schools compete nationally for funding. But is it confronting the same areas as past initiatives while failing to examine such overlooked areas as the social and emotional needs of students?
These kinds of questions and criticism for Race to the Top are beginning to surface from parents, administrators, instructors, and even students. The main source of concern being RTTT may prove to be another failed initiative, mirroring past reform efforts such as the infamous No Child Left Behind Act.
“I’ve been in the other options of NCLB and AYP scenarios, and I don’t think they were fair and just in their assessments… You just can’t put it on a few factors and say that it’s all going to be good,” Dashiell said when asked about previous reform initiatives.
“I think there needs to be a lot of counseling, a lot of students are going through tough times, a lot of parents are going through tough times, the economy is going through tough times, but no one’s looking at the social and emotional issues our kids are going through. And that is our biggest deficiency… and that takes money [to reform].”
Will RTTT prove to be the parachute for America’s educational free fall and an answer to overlooked necessities like the social and emotional well being of students? Only time will tell, but in the mean time Obama is asking for an extra 1.35 billion dollars in funding to extend the initiative into 2011, and has hinted that it may be extended further into the future.