Teachers Take Aim at Race to the Top Program

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October 5, 2012; Source: Education Week (blog)

Remember the back and forth between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on the Race to the Top (RTTT) program during the recent presidential debate? It was a rare moment of convergence. Both candidates lauded the program, although Romney credited Education Secretary Arne Duncan rather than the president who appointed him.

Many public school teachers are less in love with the program. Former Oakland schoolteacher and education blogger Anthony Cody (who we have covered in the NPQ Newswire here) reports that teachers in Fresno, Calif. have given RTTT a thumbs down. School districts applying for the Race have to get the teachers’ formal approval. Approximately 500 Fresno teachers attended a special presentation urging them to support the school district’s RTTT plan, and then the teachers voted against it by more than a three to one margin. Previously, Sacramento teachers also rejected RTTT participation.

A key part of the Fresno teachers’ reasoning is the RTTT’s strong use of student test scores as the basis for teacher evaluations. A Fresno teacher told Cody:

“We rejected it because they wanted us to sign a blank document that held no information on what the District was going to do; there was no way that we were going to agree to give carte blanche power to them to create whatever kind of application they wanted, especially when it came to tying teacher evaluations to test scores. We’ve been hammered with test scores, bad press, and vilification for ten years. Our students are tired of high stakes testing, our parents are tired of hearing it, every induce shows it has not helped graduation rates or learning for the most poor of students… It’s time for it to end.”

Cody and others challenge the notion held by the president (and his Republican challenger) that the Race to the Top (unlike No Child Left Behind) is a top-down federal initiative. One of the significant elements of the RTTT is quite simply mandating an increase in the number of privately managed schools in the school systems. The privatization plus the high stakes testing regime make RTTT as unacceptable as NCLB, some advocates say.

As a result, Cody is reportedly going to be the national coordinator of the Campaign for Our Public Schools, a letter-writing campaign asking teachers, administrators, parents, and concerned citizens to tell President Obama what he needs to change in his education policies. Cody’s job will be to gather all e-mails sent to him or the remarkable Diane Ravitch on October 17th and send them to the president. In Ravitch’s words, “Let’s raise our voices NOW against privatization, against high-stakes testing, against teacher bashing, against profiteering.”

Someone retweeted Cody’s report on the Fresno teachers with the message, “Love Obama but not RTTT.” Therein lies the problem. The president has consistently supported Arne Duncan’s school privatization and high-stakes testing agenda, notwithstanding grumbling from teachers, unionized or not. But the teachers find themselves unable to switch to Romney, who would support the privatization no less than the president but who, they believe, would also cut more out of the Education Department budget than Obama probably would. It is a tough situation. We will see what happens on October 17th and we’ll watch how the president and Duncan respond on the 18th. –Rick Cohen

  • George Buzzetti

    There is only one thing the dems and rats agree on and that is corporatization and privatization. In 1995 when Daley took over the Chicago Schools Obama became, until he ran for the Senate, president of the Annenburg Foundation for Chicago Public Schools. Annenburg, Obama, put about $170 million into the Chicago Public Schools. Even their own report showed that they accomplished zero. Also, Obama was a part of Renaissance 2000, privatization. Just about a month ago the Chicago Sun-Times ran an article which stated that of the over 100 charter schools in Chicago only 1 did better than the regular schools.

    When Duncan was superintendent of Chicago Schools Mayor Villaraigosa tried to get mayoral control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) against the California State Constitution, AB 1381. Both Senator Feinstein and Arne Duncan wrote letters to the California Legislature stating that those who ran the Chicago Public Schools before Daley and Vallas took over had put the Chicago Schools into $1.8 billion in debt which they had to clean up. Fact, we have the pertinent financial pages to the 1994 Chicago School Budget and there was a surplus. they both purposely lied to the California Legislature to push the dramatically failed everywhere “Mayoral Control Ideology.” My self and a friend were the only people who supplied the California Legislature with 165 pages of documentation to prove that everything the pushers of mayoral control of LAUSD were stating was a lie. Why would they lie?

    Big money is why. In N.Y., mayoral control, you have an annual budget of $21.9 billion. At LAUSD there is a general fund of $6.3 billion and a school construction project of $27 billion. I can prove with LAUSD and California State documents that they spend more than twice everyone else in L.A. County for school construction. Since we produced, in 2003, a spreadsheet which showed double their stated costs LAUSD now does not publish the information. The toxic school Belmont, you can see the stories at fulldisclosure.net, actually cost over $1 billion while they publish $3-500 million. It is all about profit not education of our youth. At LAUSD alone I can show from $15-20 billion disappeared through school construction losses and students not coming to school everyday.

    In 2001, when LAUSD had 156,000 students more than in 2010-11, only 14,500 or 2% did not come to school everyday. In 2010-11 it became over 102,000 or 15% for a lost revenue of over $1.14 billion. Over the 10 years due to students not coming to school everyday LAUSD lost revenue of over $5.6 billion. Do not forget that we can steal, inter-fund transfer, up to 60% of the special education money and inter-fund transfer that catagorical money into the general fund and not have to keep accurate records legally by adopting Response to Intervention (RTI). Add it all together and then think about charter schools being private organization wherein you do not have the right to the schools financial records only their non-profit tax filings and what do you have?

  • rick cohen

    Dear George: Thanks for the interesting oommentary, though I’m not quite sure about “dems and rats.” Look for my newswire tomorrow on the school test scores in DC comparing regular public schools with charters–similar findings to what you cite from Chicago.