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Race to the top in education? Who, us?

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Nov. 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm |
November 13, 2009 6:28 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative has done Washington a painful favor. It has exposed just how hostile the state’s K-12 establishment has been to genuine education reform.

Race to the Top, administered by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is designed to recognize and reward states that have demonstrated they are serious about improving their schools. The Obama administration wants school reform measures that that been proven to work, and the Department of Education has offered a very big pot of money – $4.35 billion – to states that are pursuing them.

Last week, Duncan spelled out exactly what it will take to qualify for a share of that money. To no one’s surprise, it turns out that Washington not only isn’t pursuing some of the identified best practices, it is deliberately running away from them. Race to the Top demands:

• Procedures for expedited removal of those teachers and principals who’ve proven they just aren’t up to the job. In this state, mediocre educators can hang on for a very long time; in fact, some retire on the job.

• A way for a state to step in and fix failing schools and school districts – whether the districts like it or not. In Washington, that’s against the law.

• Policies fostering high quality, innovative charter schools. Washington forbids their existence.

• Identification of classroom success by linking – in a fair way – student achievement data with specific teachers. Washington’s got the data; what it doesn’t have is the desire to connect it to teachers.

Had the people who run Washington’s public education system been picking up on the successful reforms of other states, the state would be poised to collect maybe $300 million from Duncan’s pot – money that would come in very handy right now. Instead, some of those people are dismissing the whole initiative.

Here’s a remarkable reaction from a leader of the Washington Association of School Administrators: “The people in Washington state and the people who are working in the schools in this state know better what our students need than anyone in Washington, D.C.”

Really? Children in Washington are so different that other states’ successes can’t be replicated here?

What’s more likely is that Washington is simply behind the curve, and some of the system’s leaders and entrenched interest groups aren’t particularly interested in catching up to it. A shame, because our kids really could have used a few extra hundred million dollars for their classrooms.

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