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Race to the Top: Who needed the money, anyway?

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on July 28, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
July 28, 2010 5:47 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It would be giving Washington way too much credit to say the state was an also-ran in Race to the Top.

“Pathetic wannabe” would be more accurate.

Last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire pulled Washington out of the first competition for $4.35 billion in federal education money. The money was put up as a prize for the states most serious about retooling their schools for high performance; Washington could barely budge the needle on the Obama administration’s reform meter.

In round two this year, well, at least Gregoire sent in the entry form. Washington didn’t get far; it washed out Tuesday – on the first cut.

No one who’s been paying attention can claim surprise. Washington’s education establishment – meaning its lawmakers, school districts and teachers unions – is so resistant to reform that not even the prospect of $250 million in the middle of a severe recession could persuade it to accept the necessary painful changes.

The 2010 Legislature took some baby steps toward more rigorous accountability for schools and educators, but nothing close to what the Department of Education and education pioneers have been advocating.

For example, lawmakers flirted with using student performance measures to evaluate teachers and principals, but did not require districts to connect hard data to job evaluations. Other states did, some with the cooperation of more enlightened teachers unions.

A straw man always gets thrown up when this subject comes up: It’s unfair to rate teachers on the performance of indifferent or disadvantaged students. But only an idiot would propose that teachers be judged by one battery of tests or the performance of one class. What would be fair is partially judging educators on the basis of improvements in the scores of multiple classes over multiple years.

All other professionals are rated and rewarded by results. A surgeon whose patients consistently wound up in the morgue would have a brief career. An accountant whose clients tended to get convicted of fraud would quickly run out of clients.

The numbers – plus circumstantial factors – tell the story. But we’re asked to believe that no objective measures can be brought to bear on the work of educators.

Washington didn’t even attempt to compete on another measure the Education Department deems vital; our leaders made no effort to lift the state’s foolish blanket ban on charter schools.

But not to worry: Washington Education Association sounds happy that Race to the Top and its “underlying competitive nature” is going away. Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn jointly issued a self-congratulatory statement about pursuing education reform “our way, the Washington way.”

“The Washington way.” It makes you want to weep.

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