Race to The Abyss
Race to The Top is A Failed Program
Well, as with most government programs, Race to the Top has failed– and not just in terms of helping children succeed in their educational endeavors, but it has also failed taxpayers and teachers.
I should probably start by explaining what Race to the Top is, and where it metamorphosed from. In 2009 the Obama administration offered 5 billion dollars to schools who adopted what is known as ‘Common Core Standards.’ This was an effort by the federal government to double down on it’s previous failed program known as ‘No Child Left Behind,’ or NCLB which was enacted by the George W. Bush administration in the early 2000’s. Essentially Race to the Top is NCLB on steroids. The same tired, old tactics being pushed: evaluate teachers based on student test scores with impossible standards to reach and if they don’t meet those standards, come in and fire all the teachers.
The major difference between Race to the Top and NCLB is that Race to the Top ushered in more federalized control and more punitive punishments. It promoted the theory that teachers needed harsher punishments and children needed more tests. Instead of states designing their own curriculum and making their own tests and being subject to the penalties of the federal government, they lost all control (save for fifteen percent, which we’ll get to in second) of how they design their curriculum and they STILL are subject to harsh penalties if they do not meet one hundred percent of the federal mandated guidelines. Sounds pretty great, right?! Oh, and Race to the Top also required more funding, LOTS more. They have one thing in common, though–the federal government can still come in and fire (or as they like to put it in ingsoc: “turn around”) every last teacher who doesn’t meet the artificially mandated results. My question is: how is this not Orwellian?
One thing that really bothers me about Common Core standards that Race to the Top includes is the program has created a longitudinal database of all students and their test scores. Now, this seems like a great idea on paper (not really, but for the sake of the argument), but the stark reality is that, 1.) it’s not effective at all, and 2.) this data base isn’t actually measuring any metrics that would actually be helpful. On the contrary, it’s measuring teachers based on students that they’ve never taught in subjects that teachers aren’t specializing in. It’s also measuring teachers on which students attend their classes rather than which teacher was there actively teaching and doing a good job.
Race to the Top has also mandated that states adopt “college and career ready standards,” whatever that means. But I think important questions need to be asked when ushering in something as complex as a national curriculum.
Race to the Top ushered in more federalized control, less teacher autonomy, and more punitive punishments. @yesphonics Click to tweet
What Is The Race?
Some of those questions might go as such: 1.) What is the race? 2.) Where is the top? 3.) Who will get there? And 4.) Who will be left behind? Of course, most of these questions are rhetorical, especially when you start from a common sense position that holds that not every child is exactly the same, as I stated in my last blog. This is another instance where the federal government is meddling in affairs that they have no business in (cue cranky old man image). The bottom line is that education isn’t a race, that’s doing education a disservice. Indeed, where is the top? I’m suspecting that the ‘top’ is subjective at best. Most of the students will not get to the ‘top,’ many factors influence this including: IQ, diet, home life, unshared experiences (experiences outside the home life) and their cultural environment–to bet that all (or most) students will succeed in attaining this artificial standard is impossible. And lastly, a good majority of the children will be left behind, that’s just what happens when you have central planning.
I’m sure some of you will say, “Ah see, this blogger is just another anti-government nut who hates the thought of the government improving education,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’m actively helping children everyday. Parents, teachers, educators and students alike love our Mnemonic Phonic Technique which teaches the 72 Orton phonograms. Now, let me use an appeal to authority as well; Diane Ravitch has made a similar argument that I’m making right now. She’s one of the top authorities on Race to the Top and NCLB because she was instrumental in in getting the legislation to pass, and now she regrets it wholeheartedly.
Equality of Opportunity Not Equality of Outcome
Ultimately, Race to the Top is promoting a hyper egalitarian approach to education, and there isn’t anything wrong with egalitarianism inherently, but when your stated goal is to have every child succeed and the exact opposite is happening, perhaps you should rethink your approach.
Race to the Top is importing a corporate culture into education. It’s promoting competition, bottom line, profits and losses, and bankruptcy for those that fail to show profits. Now, the only caveat I have here is that I think competition is a good thing, especially for young kids. It helps them integrate into the free market as successful humans. Competition is also a huge factor in products becoming better. However, all of the other things that Race to the Top is importing via it’s semi fascistic corporate culture is horrendous. This includes abrupt firing of employees (teachers) that fail to meet ‘targets,’ and bonuses for those that do.
Test Scores Are Not Profits
Look, the bottom line is we need to educate all students, not just the ones that win the lottery of standardized tests. Education is about learning and questioning. It’s about discovering what’s around you and inquiring into things you’re not very knowledgeable in. Ultimately, it’s about development and growth, and to become a better person who can serve their local community in the most effective and joyful way possible. This includes learning to become a good citizen. Teachers need to have the freedom to foster good habits in their students, and this includes instilling a sense of personal responsibility in students for their actions. Ideally, children should be getting this from home, but unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.
Awakening a Love for Learning
If you were to ask most teachers what their goals are as a teacher, most teachers would tell you that they want their students to succeed in every way possible. Part of this dream includes awakening a love for learning in their students and to promote self discipline and ethical behavior as desired habits that their students can carry with them for a lifetime.
Race to the Top acts as if test scores are the be-all-end-all and inculcates the idea that these standards can’t be questioned. It’s totally one sided: Race to the Top only measures test scores, but it fails to measure originality, creativity, kindness, persistence, diligence, and courage. Most importantly, it fails to measure the ability for students to critically think for themselves. But then again, I’m not so sure the government wants students to have this trait. IF they did, why are the promoting such an outrageous ideology when an overwhelming majority of the data is showing that their half baked plan is failing? I would guess it’s because of their addiction to power, which, coincidentally, they’ve found is the same level of addiction that cocaine addicts experience.
The Problem With More Federal Funding
Obviously, the answer to this headline is debt. The U.S. is currently in the hole to the tune of 19 trillion dollars–along with 100-200 trillion in unfunded liabilities, figures vary from source to source. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that more funding isn’t the answer. We’ve been doing this for a long time in many areas of education and it’s failing to garner legitimate results. Not to mention the moral issue of forcing tax payers at the point of a gun to pay for things that they can see isn’t working and having no say in the matter.
The other (and more direct) problem with more funding is that it opens up education to a long line of vendors selling stuff that schools supposedly need (which usually they don’t, old fashioned paper and pencil is really what they need, but I digress), and schools go along with this to meet the new federal guidelines and to escape the sanctions that may be imposed upon them.
A list of new things that schools supposedly need are as follows: turnaround specialists, learning coaches, rubrics to measure performance, data analysts, professional development workshops, experts in teacher evaluation, curriculum specialists, leadership trainers, new software and hardware, new programs, and textbooks aligned with Common Core Standards. All of this is a costly waste of time. Are you starting to see a trend, though? If the federal government mandates these artificial test scores and then requires teachers and schools to purchase all or some of the aforementioned things, doesn’t it seem like it’s a huge transfer of wealth to those who have vested interests in seeing Common Core succeed? All of these things are not aligned in the interests of children, much less teachers.
A Look Back At History
All of this nonsense (Common Core) was the byproduct of the close collaboration of the US Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In order for states to get funding, they had to adopt the principle of teacher evaluations. Dozens of States went for the bait, and almost all of the states changed their laws to be in accordance with Common Core standards.
Meanwhile, there was absolutely NO evidence to support evaluations for teachers. But, the Gates foundation promoted this approach by offering multi-million dollar grants to a few districts to demonstrate test based accountability. Test based accountability failed everywhere it was tried, kinda reminds me of communism. Researchers pointed out time and time again that this approach was ineffective. Teachers who taught ESL, challenged/disabled, troubled and gifted students were less likely to see their scores rise. Compared to those teachers who taught in affluent suburbs. Again, that is why artificial mandates always fail, they never take into account the complex inter-workings of individuals.
Going From Bad to Worse
As if the whole program couldn’t get any worse, it does. Race to the Top mandated the rating of teachers for students they had never taught in subjects they had never taught as well. Let that sink in for a second. Seventy percent of teachers didn’t teach reading or mathematics grades three through eight. What’s even more stunning is the fact that hardly anybody knew whether or not teachers who were fired or given bonuses were deserving in either respect. This made test scores even more God like in the eyes of bureaucrats than they were in NCLB.
I’m sure some of you are wondering how the US dept of Education could be so moronic. I’m wondering the same thing, but as it turns out, there is an answer. A coalition of Inside-the-beltway groups decided that national standards and national tests would create a ‘dynamic and coherent re-alignment of public education.’ They thought that national standards and tests would bring about better everything, including: technology, teacher education, professional development, teacher evaluations, promotional and graduation standards, and better text books. It didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, the exact opposite happened–a hodge podge of nightmares.
This wasn’t a new idea, nor novel, though. In the early 1990’s it was called “systemic reform.” The theory held that the American system was too fragmented and decentralized to be effective (I’m pretty sure I heard almost the same thing from the thought police in George Orwell’s 1984). George H. W. Bush’s administration funded voluntary national standards–hoping other parts of the model would align. They didn’t, and for good reason; states were still smart and weren’t quite as desperate for cash at that time. Then came the Bill Clinton administration who promised a ‘national system of standards and assessments.’ That never happened, another bullet dodged. But ultimately, freedom would have it’s day in court when George W. Bush came along and used NCLB to persuade states to write their own standards and tests. He also used it to penalize schools who didn’t meet the standards.
Long story short, the Obama administration announced Race to the Top, but states were ineligible to compete for a share of the 4.5 billion dollars unless they adopted the aforementioned “college and career ready standards.” States understood that it meant adopting Common Core standards even though the standards hadn’t even been finished yet and they would be sight unseen until they had already signed the dotted line! The 2008 financial crisis left most states in dire financial straights. All but five states adopted the Common Core standards sight unseen; they got greedy for that cash-money. Eighteen states received funding.
Where’s the Autonomy?
States were allowed to add a meager 15 percent of additional content to the Common Core standards, but in order to do that, they had to agree to not change the standards in any way, shape, or form. The US department of Education awarded three hundred and sixty million dollars to two consortia of states to write tests that were aligned with Common Core standards. This was unprecedented in American history. Previously, markets operated on a state-by-state basis, often by district-by-district–even more local, more autonomous, more transparent. A quote by Joanne Weiss, Executive officer of New Schools Venture Fund and close confidant of the Obama administration had this to say in the Harvard Business Review about the new Common Core standards:
“The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.” Now all of this doesn’t sound terrible, I’m all for more entrepreneurship and innovation. But this isn’t true entrepreneurship. This is stacking the deck for your friends and calling it a fair competition.
The Pesky Question of Legality
The promotion of Common Core by the US department of Education and funding of national tests was legally questionable, as it turns out. Federal Laws prohibits federal officials from attempting to direct or control curriculum. Ironically, Arne Duncan insisted that he had no role in directing, assisting or promoting the direction of curricula. But, that’s exactly what he did. The Obama administration and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation thought they had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes, but, it backfired almost immediately. There was a huge outcry over how the Common Core standards were devised. The Common Core standards were deliberated behind closed doors, lacked transparency and lacked inclusion of stakeholders and most damning of all, no revisions allowed.
Solutions for The End of The Day
Ultimately, what schools really needed wasn’t more testing and more punishment, they needed smaller classes, more experienced teachers and health clinics; instead they were mandated more testing. The Obama administration and the DOE’s Arne Duncan built on the cracked foundation of NCLB by transforming schools from humanistic, child centered and community oriented to shaped by ideas and interests of statisticians, economists and entrepreneurs. We need to get back to a common sense place when it comes to education. The way things are being implemented and ran right now are a total disaster. The illiteracy rate is just as high as it ever was (and, actually, it’s getting higher), we need solutions, and we need them fast.
One place we could start, as I’ve advocated for before, is the abolition of the Department of Education, nowhere in the Constitution does it call for such an entity. After we disbanded that trainwreck, we can proceed by giving back freedom to states by letting them choose which curriculum they want to use. They can choose a curricula that has actually been proven to work, not some pie-in-the-sky, bureaucrat’s wet dream. After we have given the freedom of choice back to the states and districts, the final thing we need to do is abolish national tests and standards and repeal Common Core.
I really don’t care about ‘looking’ like I’m helping children, I ACTUALLY care about helping children. Even more so, I don’t care about ‘looking’ (read: virtue signaling) like I’m helping teachers, I actually want to help teachers. If the American school system is to recover from this death spiral she’s in, we’ll need to take swift, comprehensive measures to ensure her recovery. Time to give teachers back their autonomy. Time to tell bureaucrats to back up and step down. We don’t have any time to waste. In order for America to be innovative we need to have innovative, critcal thinking students, and the simple fact of the matter is that is slowly coming to an end. We need action, and we need it now.
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