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Status Quo Strongholds Share Same Stage as Education Reform Leaders

Jeanne Allen on ‘Race to the Top’ Phase 2 Finalists

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
July 27, 2010

Jeanne Allen, President of The Center for Education Reform, released the following statement today regarding the announcement of the names of the 19 Finalists in the ‘Race to the Top’ competition:

“The designation of Finalist status to 19 states out 36 applications in the ‘Race to the Top’ is disheartening. The fact that status quo strongholds are sharing the same stage as truly groundbreaking education reform leaders such as Florida, New York and the District of Columbia in a competition ostensibly focused on education reform efforts shows that the ‘Race to the Top’ is inherently broken in both its scoring and priorities.

“Kentucky has rejected every opportunity to establish a charter school law, while New York reform leaders had to fight tooth and nail just to provide more charter opportunities to families there. And while Florida worked to abolish teacher tenure and establish a rigorous new evaluation process, Maryland handed the teachers union a blank slate for their evaluation criteria.

“Education reform has not moved forward through federal prodding, but by the work of parents, advocates and strong legislative leaders in states who see that special interests have blocked educational opportunities for our students. The ‘Race to the Top’ should reward only those states that have disrupted business-as-usual in our schools, not succumb to the everyone’s-a-winner scenario presented by today’s selection of finalists.”

Changing my tune on 'Race to the Top'

dontchangeI have been accused of being too negative on the ‘Race to the Top’ competition by many, in and out of the education reform world. (I prefer the term cynical – even skeptical or experienced would do.) But recent soul-searching in the aftermath of Monday’s announcement that Delaware and Tennessee would be the inaugural winners in phase one has forced me to re-evaluate my thinking. When the news first broke Monday morning, I was a bit taken aback. But then, I figured “why not?”

Even if they’re not welcoming to charter schools, at least they have them, right? Moratoriums, caps and restricted enrollment must just be their way of maintaining quality standards.

And while Tennessee has only raised 8th grade proficiency on NAEP reading tests by 2 points in 11 years and Delaware 8th graders have remained stagnate since 2003, both have signed on for common standards. That should fix that issue lickety split.

And in re-reviewing both of their applications, I put myself in the place of a true DoED evaluator – alone, in a dark room, on my 4th application, deadline approaching – and I found that I truly appreciated the lack of detail in the teacher evaluation sections of each app. I was free to believe exactly what was written, and only what was written. I wasn’t hampered by knowledge of teachers union contracts, work rules, etc. And besides, with all those union locals signing on to the state proposals, I too was convinced that buy-in – not game changing reforms – would be the tipping point.

So there you have it. Just as Diane Ravitch has been accused of late, I am admitting to a 180-degree turn with respect to ‘Race to the Top’. As one can’t help but

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thatgirlIn my junior year of high school, I was caught red handed not signed up for a Fall sports team (we were required to participate in one every season). I was guilty, had no defense, was unceremoniously marched over to the cross-country team and “volunteered”. For the record, this was and remains the harshest punishment ever exacted upon my person.

I showed up every day and did only that which was required, nothing more (sometimes less).

When we competed in a race, though I usually came in last, (I thought) I crossed each finish line in style, sprinting with my last reserves of energy. But it was all for show. Those who stuck around to actually see me finish saw only this explosion of effort and quite rightly wondered why I had not doled it out over the entire course.

It was a sad display of ego and false enthusiasm.

And I am reminded almost daily of this as states rush education legislation through their political machines. One by one, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Delaware, Tennessee and their neighbors sprint across the finish line just in time for their ‘Race to the Top’ applications to have a little more content to accompany their creative writing.

What if they had been working on these education efforts over time, with focus and determination? What if they had trained a little harder in order to move beyond the superficial? What if they had made changes to their schools just because it was necessary and right, rather than lucrative?

I was never going to be a cross-country runner, and my finish line sprints proved that. Will the same be true of states in the ‘Race to the Top’?


Jeanne Allen: 'Race to the Top' Guidelines Diluted

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
November 12, 2009

Federal guidelines for the distribution of $4.3 billion in “Race to the Top” education funds to states are irresponsibly weak and filled with loopholes, according to the national nonprofit Center for Education Reform (CER). The long-awaited guidelines, which many education reformers hoped would push states to adopt meaningful education reforms, contain serious flaws.

The guidelines will provide states with a blueprint for developing their education reform plans – in return for federal funding – but, according to CER president Jeanne Allen, states that don’t embrace real reform may very well end up with federal dollars.

“Throughout the entire evaluation formula proposed by the Department of Education’s application, reform is deemphasized, and while states that are already doing good work will benefit, so might states that aren’t,” Allen said. “It is disappointing to see bold, exciting rhetoric on education reform from the Obama Administration turn into nothing more than lip service.”

Specifically, the “Race to the Top” – which had been touted as a boon for charter schools – now deemphasizes charters, even allowing states without charter school laws to qualify for federal funding. Additionally, the guidelines also deemphasize the need for gauging student achievement gains when calculating teacher merit pay plans. These two changes to the “Race to the Top” funding formula are directly contradictory to President Obama’s campaign platform and to recent statements by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

CER has argued that states should not receive funding if they don’t eliminate anti-charter and anti-performance pay language in school district rules and in collective bargaining agreements; these fundamental policy provisions are not present in the Education Department’s guidance.

“The final ‘Race to the Top’ guidelines have moved the education reform finish line up and it doesn’t seem like it will take much effort to cross it,” said

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Obama Administration Must Embrace Real Education Reform, Not Rhetoric

Statement by Jeanne Allen, CER President
November 4, 2009

In response to President Barack Obama’s remarks today on his Administration’s education reform initiatives and Race to the Top competition, Center for Education Reform president Jeanne Allen released the following statement:

Today, President Obama championed his administration’s education reform initiatives in a Wisconsin speech, focusing on states that he claims are leading the charge for education reform.

The Obama Administration has jumped on board the charter school bandwagon and, in doing so, is telling states they must do better and create or fix laws in order to compete for their share of $4.3 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funds.

As admirable as the Obama administration’s policy on charters may appear to be, the President and his Education Secretary are, too often, giving states credit for talking about charter schools rather than actually changing laws to improve the likelihood that children will have real school choice.

For example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s description of reforms in Tennessee, Rhode Island, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois has been misleading. While the Secretary has said that ‘numerous states have adopted reforms that would have been almost unthinkable a year ago,’ this is simply not the case.

No state cited in this popular mythology has revoked limits on the number of charters allowed to open this year. Several, in fact, merely fulfilled budgetary promises of charter funding after having first wiped them off the books.

In reality, most of the nation’s 40 charter laws will need dramatic legislative changes to develop robust charter laws that actually allow for the growth of the types of schools both President Obama and Secretary Duncan routinely credit with raising academic achievement and turning around students’ lives.

We want to see states get bold and adopt strong charter laws – which everyone knows how to do,

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5 Principles for Racing to Teacher Quality

By Jeanne Allen
CER President
October 8, 2009

1.) The federal government should issue guidance to states barring anti-reform school districts from receiving any “Race to the Top” funds. 
”In some school districts, it doesn’t matter whether federal and state law encourages reforms such as performance pay, because teacher collective bargaining agreements in those districts forbid reform. This little-known secret could throw a wrench in ‘Race to the Top’ funding, rendering the ‘Race’ meaningless as a reform catalyst. States should not be permitted to funnel a single dime of ‘Race to the Top’ funds to Districts that have collective bargaining agreements prohibiting, for example, the use of student performance in evaluating teachers. To send money to these districts would be to condone the ‘adults first, kids second’ mentality that has decimated learning in far too many schools.”

2.) The federal government should reward states that provide multiple pathways to teacher licensure. 
”Tying ‘Race to the Top’ funds to a dynamic, highly-talented, and evolving teacher force can yield positive changes for students. The federal government should reward states that utilize all good teacher certification options available – including true alternative certification programs that require high levels of teacher content knowledge. Studies show that well-designed alternative certification programs produce teachers who boost student achievement at faster rates. States that refuse to accept new pathways to certification are denying students access to great teachers.”

3.) The federal government should reward states that develop genuine, data-driven pay-for-performance systems. 
”States that develop and use comprehensive data collection systems to reward teachers who best improve student achievement – whether through statewide models or pilot programs – should get priority for ‘Race to the Top’ funding. While many bureaucrats claim that linking student and teacher data is impossible, the modern workforce in almost every other industry teaches us otherwise. Accordingly, the federal

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Jeanne Allen: Federal Race to the Top Funds for State Teacher Quality Efforts Need Strings Attached

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
October 8, 2009

The U.S. Department of Education should set strict rules for states receiving federal “Race to the Top” funds for teacher quality initiatives, according to Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform. Allen released her “5 Principles for Racing to Teacher Quality” today in advance of the national Excellence in Action summit in Washington, D.C.

Allen cautions that the $4.3 billion federal “Race to the Top” funding plan – which Secretary Duncan has argued should be used in part for teacher performance pay efforts – could be wasted if the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t refuse funds to school districts that enshrine anti-reform provisions in their policies and contracts.

“States should be encouraged to be as innovative and creative as possible with ‘Race to the Top’ funds,” Allen said. “At the same time, taxpayer money must not be wasted by districts that refuse to embrace reforms that work and initiatives that place the needs of children first. All too often, school districts insert anti-reform provisions in collective bargaining agreements, making these districts virtually immune from real reform. We can not and should not send a dime to these districts.”

In addition, Allen recommends that Secretary Duncan place a stronger emphasis on alternative teacher certification, promote meaningful and data-driven performance pay models, encourage alternate models of teacher tenure, and embrace teacher paycheck protection to ensure that educators take home more of their hard-earned money.

Link to 5 Principles for Racing to Teacher Quality, by Jeanne Allen, President, The Center for Education Reform.

Losing the race before it's begun

hare_turtleIf the Race to the Top is to have an influence on making sure schools get better, someone has got to figure out how districts can be held accountable directly for their behavior when it comes to reform. Nowhere is this more clear than in South Carolina’s Richland School District – an area where the school board seems to relish opportunities to strike down innovative and independent charter schools.

The Hope Charter Academy saw its charter unanimously rejected by a hostile school board that uses any excuses it can to reject quality school applications.

Founded by a group of long time African-American activists and developed over an 18-month period, the Hope Academy proposal was initially given a temporary green light and thus signed up more than 250 interested parents. However, a hostile school board rejected its pleas despite four hours of convincing public testimony.

While some feel criticism of Race to the Top fever is premature, we use this example (only one of scores across the country) to illustrate why public policy at the federal level takes not just time, but real understanding and action of state influencers, to have any effect. South Carolina districts are the only authorizers that can (if they want to) fully fund charters. The one real alternative created – with support from the local charter association – only provides $3,400 – the state per pupil amount – for each student that enrolls in state charter district authorized schools.

Perhaps racing to the top is, in theory, a good idea. It won’t work, however, unless it transcends state and local politics and business as usual.

Interesting that Hope Academy is pretty darn near the school district the President cited in his (almost) State of the Union

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Jeanne Allen Statement on Race to the Top Competition

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
July 24, 2009

Center for Education Reform president Jeanne Allen today released the following statement upon the announcement of the Department of Education’s guidelines for its Race to the Top fund:

“True reform of the country’s public education system will occur when all federal dollars are tied to innovation, not merely through individual programs such as today’s introduction of the Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition.

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama put forth a grand agenda for transforming public education in America this afternoon, and for that they should be applauded.

”In doing so, they have called out many states for their leadership and singled out others for their refusal to shed old, comfortable ways.

”Education reform, however, is neither comfortable nor a race. It must be achievement-focused and come from a true desire to see America’s children succeed on a global scale.

”Reform that is bought can easily be voted away once the federal coffers run dry.

”We look forward to working with the President to make schools work better for all children by establishing high standards, providing choices for students and their parents, advancing teacher performance pay programs that are not necessarily union-approved but teacher approved, and ensuring legislators understand that true, lasting education reform comes only when long-term goals are combined with focused, thoughtful legislation.”

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