Race to the Test

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

The California Senate passed the “Race to the Top” bill by a vote of 21-7 Thursday.  The bill now goes back to the state Assembly, which is expected to reconvene in early January. California and other states are facing a Jan. 19 deadline to compete for federal stimulus money for education.

Up to $750 million is at stake for the state, which is facing a budget deficit for more than $20 billion.

I found this commentary over at Education Week about what the President’s Race to the Top education stimulus grants actually will achieve. It reminds me a bit of where we are with “No Child Left Behind.”  The commentary was penned by Yong Zhao, a university distinguished professor of education at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, where he is the founding director of the Center for Teaching and Technology.

Over the Top
Six Tips for Winning ‘Race to the Top’ Money
By Yong Zhao

I have been reading through the voluminous document published in the Nov. 18, 2009, Federal Register, giving the final versions of application guidelines, selection criteria, and priorities for $4 billion in competitive grants under the Race to the Top Fund, the largest education grant program in U.S. history.

From news reports, op-ed pieces, and blog posts, I can guess that many states are working hard now to prepare their applications. My reading of the criteria leads me to suggest that the following are winning strategies and actions to include, even though they may be inconsistent with research findings or common sense.

  • Stop paying teachers and principals a salary. Instead, pay them on a per-standardized-test-point basis each day. At the end of the school day, simply give each student a standardized test. Then calculate what the teacher and principal will be paid that day based on the growth of the student, that is, on how much the student has improved over the previous day.
  • Remove all “non-core” academic activities and courses and reduce all teaching to math and reading. What the U.S. secretary of education wants is “increasing student achievement in (at a minimum) reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] and the assessments required under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act]” and “decreasing achievement gaps between subgroups in reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the NAEP and the assessments required under the ESEA.” Actually, no need to teach students these subjects; just teaching them how to pass the tests may be even more effective.
  • Write in lots of money for testing companies and assessment consultants in the application, because you will be rewarded for “developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments.” In the spirit of this recommendation, I would also suggest that you promise to test the students more frequently, at least twice a day—once when they come to school and once when they leave—because this will help you collect more data to meet the data-systems requirement and hold teachers accountable.

These are just a select few of Zhao’s suggested strategies. You can read his entire commentary here. I know it’s grant money, and I know we’re strapped for cash. But is this kind of money really worth destroying our children’s future?

  1 comment for “Race to the Test

  1. January 6, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Adopt-A-Classroom is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the classroom learning environment by getting funds to teachers to purchase hands-on instructional materials. While we wait to see the outcome of the Race to the Top grant money, teachers can get individual classroom grants by registering with the Adopt-A-Classroom program at http://www.adoptaclassroom.org.

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