An Unflattering Analysis of Race to the Top

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Darren Baker /

October 6, 2012; Source: Diane Ravitch’s Blog

The NPQ Newswire has frequently covered the Obama Education Department’s Race to the Top program primarily because so many prominent foundations and educational nonprofits lined up behind it as a great societal advancement over the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy—and, to be perfectly honest, because we encountered so many nonprofit pundits lambasting the program privately but lauding it publicly so as to not alienate foundations that might give them contracts.

An education expert with the temerity to speak out about Race to the Top is Diane Ravitch, whose recent blog posting listed what the Race to the Top has achieved. Like everything Ravitch writes, it is succinct and to the point, so with apologies to Ravitch, we quote from this piece liberally here:

“Because of Race to the Top, most states are now evaluating teachers based in significant part on student test scores. The American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education say that the methodology for doing this is inaccurate and unstable. The ratings bounce around from year to year. Such ratings reflect which students were in the class, not teacher quality.

Because of Race to the Top, more states are permitting privatization of public schools.

Because of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, all schools are labeled by their test scores.

Because of Race to the Top, there is more teaching to the test, more fear and anxiety associated with testing, more narrowing of the curriculum, more cheating.

Because of Race to the Top, many schools in poor and minority neighborhoods will be closed.

Because of Race to the Top, many principals and teachers will be fired.”

Ravitch notes, as we did in our debate coverage, that both Obama and Romney applauded Race to the Top, with Romney even going to far as to laud Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his work heading a cabinet department that Republican candidates often want to eliminate.

Ravitch’s conclusion is powerful: “In their public utterances on education, Obama and Duncan are frauds, but the education reform complex is being managed by very intelligent and far seeking—venal, but far-seeking—people. They know exactly what they are doing, and more often than not are getting their way.”

Is this your take on Race to the Top? And if you’re one of the many behind-the-scenes critics who won’t come out because of contracts pending with the big funders, will you speak publicly now?—Rick Cohen

  • Mary

    I am a teacher in a Race to the Top School in Ohio. While I don’t like the idea of test scores being the only thing that measures a teacher’s performance, I don’t mind it being a small part of the overall measure. In Ohio, schools are allowed to choose a variety of other measures too, to evaluate teachers, including things the teachers and the administrators in each district decide together. What Race to the Top has done in our district, is open dialogue between teachers (and our Union representatives) and the Administration about what those measures might be. This has been very productive and informative, and has helped (to some degree) eliminate fear of the new state mandated teacher evaluation system. In addition to this system, our state is rolling out new Curriculum Standards that align with national standards, which of course will effect the test structure and content. In learning about these new standards, and teaching within those standards, I have found a wealth of freedom to expand content, teach a rigorous curriculum in a creative and innovative way, and bring education back to the students, RATHER than teaching to the test. It, of course, remains to be seen how my students will perform on that state test in the spring, but I have every reason to think they will excel, because the curriculum and class requirements, while more engaging, are certainly requiring more effort, and can only lead to better scores.