After Criticism, the Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants
And the unions do what the always do--join hands with corporate power. They are determined to keep a seat at the table, even though the food is contaminated by staphylococcus or E. coli.
Note how the unions make it appear that they mattered, that they effected real change.
Is there any organization standing up to this corporate-politico assault?
By Sam Dillon
Three months after provoking an outpouring of criticism with preliminary plans for the nationÃ¢€™s largest competitive education grant program, the Obama administration has added flexibility in the final rules, released Wednesday, drawing praise from a state governor who was initially critical and from leaders of the national teachers' unions.
But the Race to the Top program, which will reward some states undertaking bold school improvement initiatives with awards totaling $4 billion, retains politically volatile elements.
Those include President Obama's emphasis on charter schools, using standardized test scores in teacher evaluation and merit pay systems, and encouraging local districts to dismiss entire staffs of thousands of failing schools.
After draft rules were published in July, some 1,200 public comments poured into the Department of Education from educators, union leaders and nine governors, many criticizing the program for seeming to replay approaches embodied in the Bush-era federal No Child Left Behind Law.
"Even after all the comments, the rules are as comprehensive and demanding as before, they havenÃ¢€™t changed," said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. ObamaÃ¢€™s chief of staff, in an interview. "We're seeking reforms, so we haven't backed off anything."
States have until mid-January to prepare applications for a first round of the grant competition, and until June for a second round. Applications must comprehensively describe multifaceted strategies for change. Assembling proposals of such scope will be challenging, especially since they must be accompanied by statements of support from leaders of local school districts, which in the case of big states like California number more than 1,000.
"A number of states have said they just can't apply because they canÃ¢€™t do all the paperwork," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy.
Among the new rules is a scoring system to be used by independent reviewers recruited by the department to judge statesÃ¢€™ submissions.
A perfect application would earn a state 500 points, with 125 points allotted for articulating a perfectly coherent agenda for change; 70 points for adopting higher standards and higher quality tests; 47 points for developing computerized systems to track student academic progress; 138 points for recruiting quality teachers, evaluating their effectiveness, and using the evaluations in tenure and other key decisions; 50 points for turning around failing schools; 30 points for other miscellaneous categories of change; and 40 points for fostering the growth of charter schools.
One organization unimpressed with the final rules is FairTest, a nonprofit that is critical of standardized testing. Monty Neil, the group's co-executive director, said the final rules encourage the use of test data to help teachers improve instruction, rather than merely to hold schools accountable, which he called a minor improvement. "But most of the points will be awarded for work on new standardized tests," Mr. Neil said.
The emphasis on charter schools in the draft rules drew hundreds of comments over the summer, including a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan from Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina, a Democrat, who said her "primary concern is the overall prescriptive nature of the guidelines and the emphasis placed on charter schools as the major tool of innovation."
The final rules repeat the administration's focus on charters as tools for school change, but also invited states to describe "innovative public schools other than charter schools" operating in their local districts.
"That's exactly what we asked for," Ms. Perdue said Wednesday. "We like charters in North Carolina, but we like other methods of innovation, too. So I can see that Secretary Duncan listened to us, and that's phenomenal. I'm really pleased."
Both national teachers' unions criticized the draft rules in terms that were often scathing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an August letter that the program had the "potential to spark innovation," but argued that the administration had overstepped its authority with many elements of the competition. Ms. Weingarten reacted more positively to the final rules.
"The administration worked very hard to find the right balance," she said. "This is not a 'Kumbaya' moment, but these rules suggest they won't dictate from on high but will work together with teachers and their unions."
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said the draft rules had seemed to encourage states to evaluate teachers and principals largely "based on a single standardized test score," which he likened to judging a basketball player based on the number of baskets in one game.
The final rules, he said, "put more emphasis on student growth, teacher practice and improving instruction. So I'm really pleased that they listened."
Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group often critical of the teachersÃ¢€™ unions, said, "The administration clearly listened to the unions, but they havenÃ¢€™t backtracked."
The new rules urge states to seek amounts of money proportionate to their sizes. They urge four states with large student populations, California, Florida, New York and Texas, to outline budgets in the $350 million to $700 million range. States with small student populations are urged to propose budgets of $20 million to $75 million.
The New York schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, said the administration had improved the rules dealing with failing schools. The draft rules left states free to choose frequently ineffective halfway measures, like replacing a school's principal, in outlining their main turnaround strategies. The final rules, he said, require states to use bolder measures in a majority of school overhaul efforts, like replacing entire school staffs or closing a school entirely.
New York Times
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES