Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 - 6:50
Friday, July 2, 2010 - 14:43
One authority argues that Race to the Top has been a misguided approach that could leave the nation's education system in worse shape than it was in the past.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve been pretty enthusiastic about the potential of the Recovery Act’s Race to the Top program for schools (see here, for example). But we thought it was only fair to give some space to a well-respected authority who has a different point of view.
Arthur Camins, the executive director of Gheens Institute for Innovation in Education for Jefferson County (KY), writes in Ed Week that he thinks the Race to the Top approach is driven by an ineffective application of narrow, short-term tactics to a long-term national reform effort. He notes, for example, that one school might find it useful to fire the bottom half of its teachers and replace them with new talent, but attempting the same thing nationwide assumes that there is an unlimited pool of previously untapped teaching talent or that good teachers can be pulled from one district to another without bringing down the quality of the former to improve the latter.
We asked Camins how he might have directed these funds instead. He said that the money should have gone toward two goals. First, lowering class size to reduce teacher burden and to provide time for more professional development opportunities. “If you compare the U.S. with other high performing countries, like Finland,” he says, “teachers in the U.S. spend a far greater percentage of time in direct contact with students. In other countries a larger part of their time is devoted explicitly to professional growth.”
Second, Camins says that more funds should be used to bolster the “systems of social supports” that undergird education, such as after school programs and student health needs.
The impetus for change is also wrong, he adds. “I think the federal government is seizing on a moment of economic hardship and using it as lever to get districts and states to adopt a particular reform agenda. States across the country are changing their laws with respect to charter schools and testing in a way they don’t want to do. They are so desperate they will do anything for those dollars because of the shortfall of the tax revenue. Districts are just trying to keep their heads above water."
Though he recognizes the need to measure for performance, Camins feels the new protocols put too much stress on targets. Much of the research on motivation tactics, he believes, shows that these kinds of rewards will only produce short term, superficial gain. If the stakes are raised high enough, he adds, it "only induces people to game the system."
Note: As the debate about Race to the Top continues and states wait to see the results of the second round, Congress is taking steps to reduce the amount of reform money available. Late last Thursday, the House passed an emergency spending bill that would shift $500 million out of the Race and use it to avoid teacher layoffs.