President Barack Obama offered a forceful defense today of his signature education initiative, the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, which rewards states for making progress on raising standards, improving teacher quality, establishing data systems, and turning around low-performing schools.
The program—and Mr. Obama's prescription for turning around those low-performing schools—has come under sharp criticism lately from civil rights groups, who say distributing funds through competitive grants hinders poor and minority students, whose schools may not have the resources to compete for the dollars. His speech to the National Urban League this morning offered a rebuttal to such criticism and echoed much of what U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan said to the same group yesterday.
Mr. Obama argued that the steps that Race to the Top encourages states to take, including lifting the cap on charter schools and using student data to inform teacher evaluation, are the right ones.
"None of this should be controversial. There should be a fuss if we weren't doing these things," Mr. Obama said.
And he touted the program's other aims, including encouraging states to work together to adopt higher, more uniform academic standards. That's a departure from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which he said inadvertently rewarded states for lowering standards. And he said Race to the Top would help states develop richer assessments that do a better job of gauging what students know so that teachers can improve instruction, instead of "teaching to the test."
Obama's policies are forcing states to add tests to every subject in every grade twice a year so that they can measure the "added value" teachers are giving students.
His policies are also tying teacher pay, evaluations and ultimately jobs to those scores.
How can he say that his policies are helping teachers to improve instruction instead of "teaching to the test" when everything about education under the Obama policies - from whether the school stays open to whether the principal gets fired to whether the staff gets dismissed to how long the school day/year is to how much teachers will be paid - is TIED TO THE TESTS.
Either he is willfully ignorant of the "change" his policies are bringing or he's lying about it.
It's one or the other because the relationship between the Obama policies and testing is just that obvious.
As for the controversy question, how could the changes his policies are bringing - from closing schools and firing teachers to turning over public education to for-profit EMO's to tying teacher pay, evaluations and jobs to test scores - NOT be controversial?
They are a radical re-ordering (some might say a creative destruction) of what already exists with unproven or disproven reforms.
And they are DIRECTLY leading to the firing of thousands of teachers all across the country, most of whom are being scapegoated for conditions and situations beyond their control.
Some are being fired after being evaluated by a flawed accountability system. As Valerie Strauss noted in today's Kaplan Test Prep Post about the firing of 241 D.C teachers:
According to the new report by Mathematica Policy Research:
If three years of data is used there is about a 25 percent change that a teacher who is “average” would be identified as significantly worse than average, and, under new evaluation systems, perhaps fired.
*If one year of data is used, there is a 35 percent chance of the same misidentification.
Considering that teachers are now being fired based partly on test scores -- D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee just let go dozens of teachers based on such evaluations -- this error rate matters in a big way.
Uh, yeah. Yeah, a 25%-35% chance of error matters.
It matters a lot.
The Obama policies are the Bush policies on steroids - ill-thought out, counterproductive, ultra-punitive and heavy on testing and scapegoating teachers.
When Obama says his policies are moving education away from "teaching to the test," he is as WRONG as he was when he said off shore oil drilling platforms do not spill anymore just two weeks before the BP platform in the Gulf exploded.
When he says his policies are moving public education education away from the more punitive measures of NCLB, he is as WRONG as he was for firing Shirley Sherrod before he investigated the false charges of racism against her.
It is that freaking blatant.
Not that hard to point that out, folks.
Seriously, not that hard.