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Over the Top: Winning Strategies for the Race to the Top Fund

Publication Date: 2009-11-23

November 16, 2009, from Yong Zhao blog Michigan State. Suggestion #1 is a brilliant take on what's happening, almost too close to Arne's dream to be a parody. Go to the site and read the comments, too.

I have been reading through the 775-page final notice document to be published in the Federal Register on November 18, 2009. It includes the final versions of application guidelines, selection criteria and priorities for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund (RTT), the largest education grant in U.S. history.

I can guess from news reports, op-ed pieces, and blog posts that many states are working hard to prepare their applications. From my reading of the criteria, I think the following are the winning strategies and actions to include in the application, although they may be inconsistent with research findings or common sense.

Suggestion #1:

Stop paying teachers and principals a salary. Instead pay teachers and principals on a per standardized test point basis each day. At the end of each school day, students should be tested using a standardized test, what a teacher and principal is paid is calculated at the end of the day based on the growth of the student, i.e., how much has the student improved over the previous day. This is true accountability and will for sure keep teachers and principals on their toes! (This is the true intention behind the requirement: "At the time the State submits its application, the State does not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers at the State level to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation.")

But to do so, you must not ask the question whether this "accountability" will lead to better teaching, ignore the fact that "accountability" has driven many teachers out of the schools, and forget about attracting highly qualified talents to the teaching profession. Read The Folly of Merit Pay by Alfie Kohn, published in Education Week in 2003.

Suggestion #2:

Remove all "non-core" academic activities and courses and reduce all teaching to math and reading because what the Secretary wants is "increasing student achievement in (at a minimum) reading/language arts and mathematics, as reported by the NAEP and the assessments required under the ESEA" 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 them these subjects, just teaching them how to pass the tests may be even more effective.

But to do so, you have to forget the reasons for education in the first place, ignore all research findings about the negative consequences of high stakes testing, and suppress any desire to care about the students' emotional well being, to cultivate their creativity and entrepreneurship, to consider their interest and strengths. Read my book, and Your Child̢۪s Strengths: Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them by Jenifer Fox.

Suggestion #3:

Make sure every child takes courses in "science, technology, engineering, and mathematics(STEM)," the more, the merrier because "[E]mphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)" is a competitive preference priority, worth 15 points and you either get 15 points or nothing "(competitive preference points: 15, all or nothing)."

But this requires you to ignore research findings that "[O]ver the past decade, U.S. colleges and universities graduated roughly three times more scientists and engineers than were employed in the growing science and engineering workforce" and "there is no evidence of a long-term decline in the proportion of American students with the relevant training and qualifications to pursue STEM jobs." You also must not think about what our children will really need to be successful in the 21st Century global economy, such as cross cultural competencies, foreign languages, digital competencies, or what Daniel Pink refers to as "R-Directed Thinking Skills." Read a recent study about STEM education in the U.S., an article I wrote for PDK's Edge magazine, my book, and Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind.

Suggestion #4:

This suggestion is only for Alaska, South Carolina, and Texas because all other 47 states have already done so and that is to develop and adopt "a common set of K-12 standards that are supported by evidence that they are internationally benchmarked and build toward college and career readiness by the time of high school graduation." All 47 states have signed on to the Common Core Standards Initiative of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. So I guess it counts, although it only has two subjects.

Well there may be a small problem: how to prove that the standards are internationally benchmarked? Did they benchmark against national standards in Canada, our closest neighbor, or Australia, a large federation of states like the U.S.? Of course not, because they do not have national standards. Or perhaps against China since it is our perceived competitor, probably not, because China has been reforming its curriculum over the past two decades and loosening its national control on curriculum. Or perhaps it is the PISA or TIMSS--but these are tests, not curriculum standards.

To wholeheartedly embrace this suggestion, states have to overlook the damages national standards can do to education and not take into consideration the fact that national standards neither improves education for students nor narrows achievement gaps. Read my recently published article on this issue in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice and the editorial by Chris Tienken, the editor.

Suggestion #5:

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." I also suggest, in this spirit, that you promise to test the students more frequently, at least twice a day--one when they come to school and one when they leave, because this will help you collect more data to meet the data systems requirement and hold teachers accountable.

Of course, what this means is that you cannot think about students' individual differences, the need for diverse talents, or the costs of standardized tests. You cannot think about who will eventually benefit from the assessments either. And in no way you should worry about the corruption high stakes standardized testing brings. Read Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools by Sharon Nicoles and David Berliner.

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