Why Race to the Top is Encouraging a Race to the Bottom

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Teacher with bored child

My mother was a teacher for 40 years. If she were alive today, she might want to offer our President a time out and few choice words for what he is helping to do to her cherished profession.

I watched the the President’s speech to the Urban league touting his brand of education reform. I applauded when he said;

“The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom.” 

The problem is that his words don’t come close to matching the education policy his administration is touting.  When you look closely at what Race to Top wants to do, anyone with an iota of sense, let alone a child in public schools, will see some huge problems.

Acclaimed education scholar Diane Ravitch explains the problem today on Huffington Post:

“The program contains these key elements: Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students’ test scores. Schools that continue to get low test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.”

The logic of evaluating teachers based on how students perform on tests seems clear, but here is the problem according to Ravitch:

”Evaluating teachers in relation to student test scores will have many adverse consequences. It will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever, and even more time and resources will be devoted to raising scores on these tests. The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test. There will be more cheating, more gaming the system.”

And about those charter schools:

“Furthermore, charter schools on average do not get better results than regular public schools, yet Obama and Duncan are pushing them hard. Duncan acknowledges that there are many mediocre or bad charter schools, but chooses to believe that in the future, the new charters will only be high performing ones. Right.”

The end result according to Ravitch:

“President Obama and Secretary Duncan need to stop and think. They are heading in the wrong direction. On their present course, they will end up demoralizing teachers, closing schools that are struggling to improve, dismantling the teaching profession, destabilizing communities, and harming public education.”

I wish you could ask my mom what these policies mean to teachers, but she is teaching little angels in heaven.  Instead, ask a teacher today if test scores are enough to get a kid into college, or if test scores will ensure they get a good job with a strong career track. Teachers know that kids are more than a number and that pushing to privatize our educational system will only spell disaster for our nation.

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This is cross posted at my blog here

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