Tomorrow, they will announce the finalists in the Race to the Top competition.
What they won’t mention are the countless students whose states and schools have lost in that competition. We won’t be able to know how many schools, teachers, and students who get the RTTT funding will lose the richness of their curriculum in favor of scripted programs to improve test scores. We won’t know how many other teachers will lose their jobs because of the restructuring measures mandated under NCLB and RTTT. While there are many worthy aims in this piece of legislation, what concerns me is that at the core of competition are clear winners and clear losers. I don’t want my state to be a losing state. But someone’s state will be.
I listened to Arne Duncan today discuss that we need to celebrate teachers who make improvements in a child’s skills, not just penalize them when a child test below the bar. He told an anecdote of a teacher who improves a child’s reading level by two grades, but that currently, that teacher would be penalized because the child was still below grade level. I am right there with Secretary Duncan. But it seems to me that this year’s budget proposal penalizes good programs that are doing good work improving student literacy for the mere fact that they don’t disperse funds in a competitive way. How are competitive grants an improvement on our current model? How does eliminating a crucial infrastructure that supports strong gains in literacy, like the National Writing Project or Reading is Fundamental which both are direct funding models, equal an improvement? Especially when not every child, school, or state has access to the new programs? How is this an improvement when some states get more than others?
I listened to both the Youtube highlights and the streamed archive of Secretary Duncan’s meeting with the Education and Labor committee today. I want to believe that there are good intentions on the part of the Obama administration when it comes to the education of our nation’s children. But I am concerned that a large part of the rhetoric places the blame on teachers, rather than focusing on supporting programs that are known to work. Creating a national conversation about winners and losers is just not the best way to improve an entire system.