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‘Race to the Top’ threatens teachers, public education

Published Sep 12, 2010 11:01 PM

Capitalism has always been very fond of races — including the race to conquer, the race to exploit and the race to accumulate as much wealth as possible, all at the expense of the workers, the poor and the oppressed. The U.S. government’s recent unveiling of a new race in education, the “Race to the Top,” is part of the same corporate contest. Only this time, the survival of public education is on the line.

Richmond, Calif. community rallies to stop
school closures and support teachers
during contract negotiations.
WW photo: Judy Greenspan

In California, in order to be eligible for this “race” and its $700 million prize, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature became cheerleaders for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s plan and passed two draconian measures. The new laws provide mechanisms for teachers to be evaluated by student scores (known as the value-added model) on multiple choice, standardized tests and for parents to respond to student failure on these tests by firing teachers and closing these schools.

Most recently, the Los Angeles Times joined the race by publishing an analysis by a statistical researcher from the Rand Corporation that included the names of teachers and the test scores of their students. The threat of the future publication of an expansive “hit list” of teachers and their students’ test scores has been vigorously opposed by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the California Federation of Teachers and other education associations around the country.

A recently released report, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn,” notes the “state of emergency” in the delivery of education to African-American, Latino/a and other communities of color in this country. It calls for “‘universal’ early education for all students in all states; policies that will provide access to highly effective teachers for all students ... and community schools that offer wraparound services.” (http://naacpldf.org/)

This 17-page report issued in July by such groups as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the NAACP, the National Council for Educating Black Children and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition criticizes the competitive, corporate nature of Race to the Top. It calls for a decreased reliance on standardized test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness. It also notes the important role that public schools play in poor communities and states that school closures should be only a “measure of last resort.”

According to Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush and now a professor at New York University, “Access to federal funding should be based on need, not competition.” Not surprisingly, the coalition of civil rights and education groups concurs.

Ravitch goes further to warn about the adverse consequences of evaluating teachers on their test scores. In an Aug. 1 Huffington Post article, Ravitch states, “It will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever. ... The curriculum will be narrowed. ... There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history. ... Teachers will teach to the test.”

Race to the Top was never intended to provide poor communities with adequate funding to improve the quality of teachers and instruction. After all, it was presented as a race — only those states that could jump through the hoops would get the funding. Even with its anti-teacher, school dismantlement legislation, California lost its bid in the second round of Race to the Top funding. Sometimes a race is worth losing.

A former Los Angeles school teacher, Walt Gardner, felt the same. In a Dec. 30 article in the Christian Science Monitor, he noted that public education does not thrive on competition and should not be treated as a business. “The practical way to mend the educational system is by implementing economic and social reforms that focus on the children,” Gardner stated.

Duncan’s plan to reward states that dismantle “poorly performing” public schools across this country and replace them with privately financed charter schools is a frontal assault against public education. Only a broad coalition of parents, students, teachers and education allies can save public schools and guarantee the academic success of all children.

This author is a 3rd grade teacher at a Title I elementary school in Richmond, Calif.