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Creating education road kill in the ‘Race to the Top’

Submitted by on Tuesday, 28 July 2009 No Comment

Aw, you knew it was coming.

You just knew that Arne Duncan, the reigning monarch of merit pay and cheerleader in chief for charter schools, was going to find some state somewhere to some how make an example of on teachers and test scores.

He located two last week. It didn’t take much looking – just glance at the map and point to the big ones. New York and California, there are bull’s eyes in your backs and the education secretary is locked and loaded. So’s the president.

Friday, Barack Obama and Duncan decreed that grants from “Race to the Top” money, a $4 billion stimulus slush fund, will not go to any state that fails to use “data-driven analysis.” That’s a fancy name for linking teachers’ job evaluations to test scores, a connection California law has forbidden since 2006.

It’s easy to give in, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarenegger is slobbering like a teething baby, eager to do just that. “We will seek any reforms or changes to the law deemed necessary, including changes to our data system laws, to ensure California is eligible to compete for our share of Race to the Top Recovery funds,” he said in a statement Friday.

Of course you will, because when you live in a state that just cut $6 billion in education spending and where solutions to budget crises have the life expectancy of a house fly, you’ll grovel for every dollar you can get.

But just because everyone else is jumping off that bridge doesn’t mean you should, too.

It’s hard to understand why this concept is such a hard sell, but standardized test scores do little to reflect true learning. For that matter, today’s curriculum and its bosom buddy relationship to testing does little to encourage true learning.

Tying teacher evaluation to test scores won’t create better teachers. It merely will create teachers better at teaching the test.

If you want to create better teachers, start with mentoring programs at each school. They should be required to new instructors. Free principals from paperwork – it’s amazing how much of the stuff became expendable in California when the budget crisis hit hard – and give them time to do meaningful evaluations. Hold principals accountable for giving their teachers adequate feedback.

Ay, but that’s not “data driven,” so a program like that would never be eligible for Race to the Top money. It’s a sad day when a Democratic administration manages to out-Bush Bush on standardized testing.

Want to try something innovative? Skip the tests. In seven years, they’ve done little to improve schools.

They have, however, resulted in a bonanza for companies that sell No. 2 pencils and standardized tests.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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