As ODE prepares to dig through hundreds of Straight A Fund applications, Race-to-the-Top, it's big brother in the dog-eat-dog world of funding schools through competitive grant making is looking like a big flop according to a new report published by the Economic Policy Institute. The report finds
States made unrealistic and impossible promises
- With one exception, every grantee state promised to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps to degrees that would be virtually or literally impossible even with much longer timelines and larger funding boosts.
- Virtually every state has had to delay implementation of its teacher evaluation systems, due to insufficient time to develop rubrics, pilot new systems, and/or train evaluators and others.
RTTT policies fall short on teacher improvement and fail to address core drivers of opportunity gaps
- States have focused heavily on developing teacher evaluation systems based on student test scores, but not nearly as much on using the evaluations to improve instruction, as intended.
- Because state assessments tend to test students’ math and reading skills, attention has been focused mostly on those subjects, potentially to the detriment of others. States have also struggled to determine how to evaluate teachers of untested subjects and teachers of younger students, a critical issue, given that they constitute the majority of all teachers.
- While some states have developed smart strategies to recruit talented professionals to teach subjects and/or teach in schools that are underserved, the vast majority of alternative certification money and effort has gone to bringing young, largely uncredentialed novices to teach in disadvantaged schools.
- Districts heavily serving low-income and minority students, especially large urban districts, face some of the most severe challenges. Tight timelines and lack of resources compound RTTT’s failure to address poverty- related impediments to learning. Heightened pressure on districts to produce impossible gains from an overly narrow policy agenda has made implementation difficult and often counterproductive.
RTTT shortcomings have spurred state–district and union–management conflicts that hinder progress
- The tight budgets that led many states to apply for RTTT funding have proven problematic as state education budgets, and staff, are reduced just as more resources and experts are needed.
- While states have worked hard to reach out to local education agencies (LEAs) to secure their participation—a main requirement for RTTT funding—districts increasingly protest state micromanagement, limited resources, and poor communications.
- The heavy focus on evaluation and punishment over improvement has made teachers, principals, and superintendents suspicious and has reduced support for RTTT.
- States and districts that laid strong foundations for change, including making teachers real partners, and making union–management collaboration fundamental to the success of reform, have seen the most progress, have encountered the fewest bumps, and seem more likely to sustain gains. District and school culture, which varies tremendously within and across states, also plays a role in determining whether implementation efforts are succeeding or struggling.
- While educators see great potential in the Common Core State Standards, the limited funding and lack of professional development linked to student data from RTTT raises concerns that the even more intense demands of the Common Core will exacerbate achievement gaps rather than produce benefits.
The report also notes that long-term data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest that the standards-and-accountability era has not boosted achievement any more than achievement grew in the decades that preceded it. The push to do too much too quickly with too few resources has led teachers, principals, and superintendents to express frustration and stress. Most critical, many of the major problems limiting student and school success remain unaddressed.
With the money now expended, RttT initiatives are even less likely to have a lasting impact.