Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lack of Support for Race to the Top Does Not Mean Lack of Support for Reform

What amazes me is the continued browbeating educators who have not jumped on the Race to the Top bandwagon are still taking. Newspapers are publishing editorial and editorial blaming teacher’s unions and the educational establishment for not supporting their state’s applications for funding under Race to the Top. It’s almost as if to disagree with the reform measures being pushed by the Obama administration is blasphemous. The reality is, I know no educator who does not feel the need to reform what we are doing, but many like myself, do not buy the reform agenda being literally being shoved down the throat of the  public educational establishment by Secretary Arne Duncan.

First of all, Secretary Duncan and President Obama’s unwavering faith in Charter Schools is misplaced. Personally, I have nothing against charter schools. In fact, I honestly believe they have a place in our efforts to meet the needs of all our students. Where I do have problems, is the unquestioning promotion of charter schools as the answer to reforming education. I suspect that charter schools are just like regular public schools. There are good ones, and there are bad ones. But to shove them down the throats of the educational establishment like they are some kind of miracle cure is wrong. There are certainly places where charter schools have done great things, but to suggest that these schools have any kind of magical ability to transform education is ludicrous.

Secondly, in spite of the fact that the Obama administration in its pre-election campaigns promised to end the “culture of testing” that our schools currently suffer under, under Secretary Duncan this emphasis on testing has only intensified. Race to the Top would have states evaluating teachers based on test scores, which suggests that these tests actually do indicate how well a teacher is teaching a subject. Never mind that these tests were not designed for that purpose. Also, never mind that most state tests have not even established both reliability and validity. I disagree with with Secretary Duncan’s unwavering faith in tests as a measure of teacher performance. I have not yet seen a test that I would bet my career on.

Finally, I disagree with Secretary Duncan’s whole belief that competition for reform dollars is going to ultimately bring about what is best for all our kids. Competitions mean that there are winners and losers, and with Race to the Top there will be losers, and ultimately the students are the ones who lose. They will lose if their state does not magically create an application acceptable to the Obama administration. Education reform is not a game. What we do as educator’s affects our students’ futures. If that means I am a bit skeptical of politicians bearing lots of money, then so be it.

Ultimately, I remain skeptical of Secretary Duncan’s reform agenda because he has not convincingly made his case. Because I disagree with him and the Obama administration does not mean that I am against reform either.

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