Saturday, December 28, 2013

Race to the Top (RTTT)

When discussing education reform, No Child Left Behind is cited as the beginning of the end of a movement towards a more democratic public education institution. Unfortunately, regardless of the shift in executive partisan leadership, Obama and his educational initiative Race to the Top have been accused of continuing the standardized machine the leaves teachers, students, and communities on the margins. Without addressing the root cause such epidemics as the achievement gap, Race to the Top hastily favors a start from zero approach. What is seriously wrong with this approach is the appearance of a staggered start that eventually evens out. However as time goes on certain runners are asked to run more laps than others, and according to the legislation that this process still establishes a process towards democracy.

“No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which involve high levels of solely quantitative measures of “success”; and frequent tests for preservice teachers that may or may not evaluate their abilities to teach effectively.” (Porfilio xiv) These measures are not indicative of many of the challenges students and teachers face on a day- to- day basis, due to societal issues and lack of resources respectively. Therefore an irrelevant test is manifested for a population who, to put it plainly, couldn’t care any less. 

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education “wishes to create a system to measure the Value Added scores for graduates of teacher preparation programs and reward programs that yield high- scoring teachers and punish those who fail to make the grade.” (Duncan 2012, Porfilio 58) This may seem like a great idea, keeping teachers accountable, however Duncan himself has never taught in a traditional classroom, his credentials lie in school administration, and even though this may be great preparation for formally holding teachers accountable, it is a spit in the face of teachers who have little representation via unions, to express their countless attempts to “improve test scores”. If you are not in the class everyday, or have some frame of reference, no matter how vague, of classroom culture, it is hard to determine what exactly are suitable measures of competence in such an array of diverse class environments. All students are intelligent, yes, so therefore the objective is just a matter of identifying that intelligence, and nurturing it until the student becomes able to form a healthy self-esteem and positive self-identity. 

What gets in the way of determining these intelligences are standardized tests.
“Standardized testing is at the center of No Child Left Behind and its blueprint for reauthorization, Race the Top, the push for value added assessment, the creation of database tracking projects to longitudinally measure teacher ‘performance’ on students’ standardized tests, the linkage of teacher evaluation and pay to such standardized test-based measures, the imposition of ‘urban portfolio districts,’ legislative moves to stifle the power of teachers unions, the unbridled entry of corporate managers into school reform bypassing professional educators and educational scholarship, and the use of corporate media to frame educational problems as solutions. Standardized testing has also been at the center of the push for charter school expansion and the expansion of for profit management companies running schools.” (Porfilio 75) In addition to holding teachers accountable for things they cannot control, Race to the Top also rewards exclusive charter schools who have little proven difference in test scores then public schools, and for the ones that do better, they have very restrictive de facto regulations that closes the door on ELL and special needs students. What this may be is a resurgence of eugenic philosophies of race-based intelligence and the futile approach to equalize an inherently unequal genetic paradigm. Race to the Top therefore needs to be more inclusive and democratic, welcoming voices in and outside of the traditional and unorthodox school systems.

Left Behind in the Race to the Top: Realities of School Reform edited by Julie Gorlewski and Brad Porfilio published by Information Age Publishing Charlotte, North Carolina 2013

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