Thursday, January 14, 2010

Race to the Top?

Educators are rushing to cash in on the latest government initiative to reform education: Race to the Top.

Race to the Top? The first thing that comes to mind is a scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World (the original Spencer Tracy version, thank you very much). No particular part of the film jumps to mind, just any of the various near collisions, disasters, and pitfalls as the competitors "race" for the hidden prize.

The "mission" of the initiative is noble enough:

But the part that screams out to me is found in number 3-- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals....


Could it mean Merit Pay?

I think it might, which raises a number of issues in my mind. Who establishes the criteria? Who judges it? Will teacher rewards be based off student performance on state tests? Etc, etc., etc.

The answers could be scary. But it appears the movement is afoot.

This past fall, New Haven teachers ratified a contract with elements of merit pay hidden inside, including other hints of linking bonus pay to student achievement. While some have stated that the system of rewarding teachers will not pit teacher against teacher, but rather reward all teachers based on student performance, it still leaves me with an unsettled feeling.

The awarding of merit pay resting on the backs of student test scores sends a strange message to both teachers and students. Many in the educational trenches contend that there already exists too much pressure with these high-stakes tests, couple that with tying it to teachers' paychecks and it may have crossed the line.

The notion that we have created a nation of test takers is not new. We measure, quantify, and study data during professional days. And for what? Most data collected in a contrived classroom setting is not valid and quite often the PowerPoint presentations thrust before staff compares the proverbial apples and oranges. "Look at this year's sophomore scores against last year's." Different test. Different batch of students.

It's time someone with courage changed a school mission statement to match what is really going on... data, funding, high-stakes testing.

No more archaic messages of "instilling a love for learning, appreciating a work of literature, or creating anything on your own."

The message is clear from on high.

There obviously isn't time.

There are no resources.

And most importantly, it's simply not on the test.


  1. Main Entry: lu·na·cy
    Pronunciation: \ˈlü-nə-sē\
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural lu·na·cies
    Etymology: lunatic
    Date: 1541
    1 a : insanity b : intermittent insanity once believed to be related to phases of the moon
    2 : wild foolishness : extravagant folly
    3 : a foolish act

  2. What?! That's the worst idea I've ever heard! Everyone needs a trophy, everyone needs an award this is not, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jim Carey version)"the girl..she mentioned something about a check..." If the faculty members are going to recieve some sort of monetary value for their students higher test scores, than all students who excel during these tests should recieve Core Value Cards, I mean after all, fair is fair.

  3. Joe, this is the most scary thing about educational reform in my opinion. Duncan recently went on record saying that educators should not be teaching to the test. Teachers already do because of outside preasures. If my pay is going to be tied to how my students do on a test, what do you think is going to happen? Do you think that for I am going to spend ANY time not teaching the test? What a shortsighted, foolish idea. It will do the opposite of what is intended, and have our students less prepared for college or the workplace.