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Round Two of Race to the Top Closed

June 2, 2010

Well the deadline for Round II applications for Race to the Top is behind us and the applications are “in the can.”  Now we sit and wait.

The idea behind RTTT was to help failing schools and districts rise about their current state and see a turn around in those schools.  Originally $5B had been earmarked.  At this point, $3.4B are available since some of it was already allocated in Round 1.

Interestingly enough, the first round of RTTT criteria had a strong emphasis on charter schools and assessment/measurement of classroom effectiveness.  What’s “interesting” about this is that neither of these areas are likely to contribute strongly to actual “success” in schools. The prevailing research on charters has mixed results — it seems that while some are doing markedly better than their public school peers, other charters are doing no better, and often worse.  In other words, sounds a lot like the public school system on a whole.

Assessing and measuring classroom effectiveness isn’t likely to actually do anything for school improvement. After all, we already know that a high proportion of classrooms are not effective.  Why continue to spend billions of dollars assessing/measuring what we already know?  Is it so we can produce better charts and graphs to show us exactly how much productive time is lost in classrooms every day?

Now of course there’s again much discussion about common standards. My worry in this is that we tend to drift to the lowest common denominator — if we all adopt “common” standards does that mean we will all be held to the same level of mediocrity or will the bar be raised?

At a time where schools continue to scream that they don’t have enough funds, why does it seem that the money that’s being allocated is along the same lines of everything we’ve been doing for the last 40 years that hasn’t shown to improve much of anything? Why not take some of that money, allocate it to evidence-based programs that have been proven to work? It’s one thing to assess and measure; it’s another thing entirely to do.  I see that the money being handed out to schools and districts is going to be a lot like state lottery money: everyone claims it’s “for the kids,” but at the end of the day, those kids don’t see much, if any of the benefit.

It’ll be interesting to take stock in 1/2/5 years and see how RTTT has impacted these schools and districts.  For that, we’ll need more assessments and measurements, no doubt.

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