By Dave Earl Carpenter
In August, the U.S. Department of Education, President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the criteria for the "Race to the Top" (RTTT) competition for $4.35 billion in grants — a one-time education fund connected with the federal stimulus package. According to Duncan, the purpose of the fund is to promote innovation and reform.
Unfortunately, regulations in the plan are a one-size-fits-all approach similar to No Child Left Behind, which has failed students and schools for the last several years. These top-down regulations undermine state education laws and the role of collective bargaining. The new regulations also mandate using student test scores as a "significant factor" in evaluating and paying teachers; overhaul states' content standards; create a new, national testing system that must be implemented by spring of 2010; and limit the so-called solutions to helping lower-performing schools to reconstitution, charter school conversion and closure.
CTA believes that the misguided regulations of RTTT are repeating the past mistakes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — including an overreliance on test scores as an accurate measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Lawmakers should slow down their rush to apply for these funds, and allow time to thoroughly evaluate the long-term fiscal and policy implications of the entire situation.
"NCLB taught us that one size does not fit all," says CTA President David A. Sanchez. "The federal government should let states and local school districts determine how best to meet the needs of their students."
One specific tenet of the plan is that states must have no "legal, statutory or regulatory barriers to linking data about student achievement or student growth to teachers for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation." Despite the claims made by Secretary Duncan and the concerns of the governor, student testing data is already linked to teachers at the local level in this state. Right now, this data is available locally to teachers and school administrators to analyze and evaluate student progress.
State law also already requires the use of student assessment results in the evaluation of teachers, including the use of criterion-referenced tests as determined by local teachers and administrators.
At recent media briefings, CTA has worked hard to educate the public on the status of current law in California and to show the harmful implications the proposed RTTT guidelines may have for students and members. CTA members have also been outspoken about the necessity of reviewing the guidelines of RTTT thoroughly before rushing to change the law.
Last month, at a joint Senate Education Committee hearing on RTTT in Sacramento, KC Walsh, an eighth-grade special education teacher and president of the Oak Grove Educators Association, gave personal testimony about the existing laws on linking data and student achievement, and advised against the dangers of rushing to change education laws and policies in order to qualify to apply for RTTT.
"The current proposals threaten to undermine 10 years of work in California aimed at supporting effective teaching and learning," said Walsh. "The Race to the Top's very narrow definition of teacher effectiveness actually imposes a far lower standard of accountability than our current law. In fact, the narrow limited definition will force schools to narrow their curricula, neglect already-proficient students, dumb down their standards, and focus solely on test results."
"California has standards that are recognized as among the most rigorous in the nation," says President Sanchez. "This would mean a complete overhaul of California's content standards and creating a new testing system at a time when California's fiscal resources are stretched beyond their limits."
Patricia Rucker, a CTA legislative advocate also at the hearing, spoke about existing tests and the sense behind using multiple measures to evaluate teacher effectiveness.
"Current tests are not designed and not valid for the purpose of determining student or school success — much less teacher success," said Rucker. "CTA supports assessment protocols that measure teacher quality using multiple measures of evidence that have been validated for the purpose of teacher evaluation. Evaluations of teacher effectiveness should include measures of teacher practices, teacher performance and teacher contributions to improving student learning through a broad and comprehensive array of evidence."
CTA fully supports using student testing data to improve student learning, instructional strategies and professional development, and has long supported and advocated for growth models as a better measurement of student achievement. CTA has also led efforts to improve lower-performing schools in our state. The CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act provides funding for proven education reform efforts, including smaller class sizes and teacher and administrator training, and for hiring much-needed counselors in high schools.
"After the governor cut more than $17 billion from public education over the last two years, teachers certainly agree that our schools need and deserve more money," says Sanchez. "But calling lawmakers into a special session to rewrite state education laws so California can apply for federal Race to the Top grants before the guidelines have even been finalized and without public discussion is a knee-jerk reaction that our state can't afford — and could undermine the achievement and progress our students and schools are making."
Concerns with Race to the Top
- Proposed regulations are more of the same one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB that has failed California students and schools for the last several years.
- Paying teachers based on a single test score will increase the likelihood of teaching to the test and make it harder to recruit and retain teachers.
- Proposed regulations would undermine California's high academic standards, which are some of the most rigorous in the nation.
- The federal government should let states and local school districts determine how best to meet the needs of their students. There is no need to create another level of state bureaucracy to link student and teacher data.
- The grants represent one-time federal money. The governor could hold on to 50 percent of the funds to use as he sees fit. Those dollars might never reach the classroom.
- California can wait and apply for this one-time money in the second round of federal grants. That would give everyone time to review the proposed regulations and do what's right and best for our students and schools.