Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Race to the top?

AFT Has Mixed Reaction to Latest Race to the Top Finalists

AFT president Randi Weingarten on July 27 congratulated the 19 finalists for
phase 2 of Race to the Top, but raised concerns about some aspects of the
competitive federal grants program. The best of those finalists, Weingarten
says, "have made a concerted effort to bring together parents, educators and
community leaders to develop a thoughtful, student-focused approach to improving
public education." (Final grant winners will be announced in September.)

"AFT members in states like Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio,
Pennsylvania and Rhode Island fought for and won a seat at the table, and their
management counterparts engaged with them in a respectful, professional way,"
Weingarten says. "Fully recognizing that Race to the Top is far from perfect,
our members nevertheless worked tirelessly to ensure that stakeholders in these
states focused on students' interests and offered solutions that make sense in
their classrooms.

"The centerpiece of Race to the Top is meaningful teacher evaluations developed
with teacher input and focused on student learning. The Department of
Education's rhetoric, and its scoring rubric, purport to reward states that work
with teachers to develop this kind of evaluation system. Logically, then,
Washington, D.C.'s application, which includes an evaluation system developed
and implemented solely by the chancellor, without regard to considerable
criticism this year from frontline educators, should have ranked among the
lowest. By naming D.C. a finalist, the Education Department is sending a message
that is completely opposite to its earlier calls for states to engage all
community members, including teachers, in the effort to improve schools. No one
wants bad teachers, but no one should want bad teacher evaluation systems

"While we encouraged our local and state affiliates to be involved in every
aspect of Race to the Top, we have always been troubled that this competition,
by its very construct, leaves out millions of students across the country.
Rather than picking winners and losers, our education policies should represent
a comprehensive approach focused on preparing every student to succeed in
college, work and life. Last month in Seattle, delegates to the AFT's convention
embraced such an approach: namely, to ensure that every neighborhood school is
an excellent school; to build on what works and replicate it for all kids; to
create a school environment in which students have what they need to succeed,
including a well-rounded curriculum; and to provide teachers the necessary
support so they can constantly improve.

"With all the attention that Race to the Top has received, some have lost sight
of the fact that students' success is threatened by Washington's failure to help
states and districts that are still feeling the effects of the recession. Even
after today's announcement, Race to the Top has delivered funds to just two
states, Delaware and Tennessee. Meanwhile, schools across the nation face
hundreds of thousands of educator layoffs, ballooning class sizes, cuts to
after-school programs, four-day weeks, and the elimination of advanced
placement, music, art and P.E. classes. The U.S. House of Representatives showed
great leadership in passing a bill to avert these cuts, but the Senate's failure
to act on the educator jobs bill leaves our students and schools in a precarious
position. This failure dwarfs whatever changes Race to the Top might effect
because, as our members know, education reform faces impossible odds when
schools face massive budget cuts." [AFT press release]

July 27, 2010
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