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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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Winded

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’?

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