Obama’s Race to the Bottom


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

On the eve of President Obama’s Inauguration for his second term, I thought it might be useful to look more closely at one of his policies that is not working for students or parents. I am referring to his educational policy, better know by its marketing name, Race to the Top.  This “quaint” title for his corporate backed privatizing plan hides the negative impact it has had in the schools themselves.  It is has led to school closings and teacher firings for the sole purpose of school districts being eligible for  the Race to the Top grants from the Federal government! 

While this foundation backed type of “reform” was started by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program, President Obama has taken the No Child Left Behind program to even greater lows.  “The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration’s Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city’s policy of school “turnarounds” and “transformations” is racially discriminatory because it’s carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black.”  Common Dreams

In order to understand how misguided this Race to the Top is, we need to take a moment to review just how does it work and how do schools and school districts “win” these federal grants. I apologize for the length of the following quotation, but it is necessary to understand how destructive this program can be.

“Secretary Duncan at his side, President Obama introduced Race To The Top, drawn up by the Bill & Melinda Gates, the Eli Broad, Boeing, Walton Family and other foundations. Under Race To The Top states and school districts are forced to bid against each other for many of the same education dollars they used to receive as a matter of course. The winning districts are those who apply Race To The Top’s four official solutions to their so-called “failing schools.”

Race To The Top’s four federally mandated “solutions,” which are never spelled out by corporate media news outlets, are “school transformations,” “school turnarounds,” “school restarts,” and “school closures.”

Race to the Top defines a school transformation,” its first remedy, as firing the principal and up to 50% of teachers, replacing them with temps and newbies, hiring expensive consultants, often the same folks who drafted Race To The Top guidelines or their cronies, to redesign curriculum and personnel policies. “Transformed” schools tie teachers jobs to test scores (that’s what caused the national epidemic of cheating scandals) lengthening school days with no extra pay, cutting wages & benefits and of course lots more costly and useless tests.

Race To The Top calls its second remedy “school turnaround.” Turnarounds are exactly the same as school transformations, with high priced “run the school like a business” consultants, increased reliance on standardized tests, sanctions for teachers and all new hires sourced from Teach For America type agencies, except that transformations fire up to 50% of school staff, but to be called a turnaround schools must fire at least 50% of school staff.

School restarts,” are the third Race To The Top solution. In a “restart” you close the public school and reopen a new school with new staff and the same connected consultants used for transformations and turnarounds, but all under the management of a private corporation. In other words, you close the public school and open a charter school in the same building. Charters of course can use public money to hire even less qualified teachers, pick and choose the students it serves, and often to generate handsome private profits.

Race To The Top ‘s fourth remedy isschool closure. ” You fire the staff, padlock the school doors and let families take their chances on the free market, or find another public school if they can.

The states and school districts quickest to carry out the most transformations, turnarounds, restarts and school closings are the ones who get to keep or increase their levels of federal funding. Those who drag their feet lose federal education dollars. That’s why it’s a race, but not exactly to the top.”
Common Dreams

That is a lot of information to digest, but the bottom line is that school districts have to fire teachers and close schools to increase their chances of getting the much-needed federal education dollars!  Race to the Top takes the Bush inspired teach to the test nonsense and includes the requirement that school districts must “turnaround” schools by firing teachers and/or closing schools many times in areas that can least afford the closing of any public schools.  Why would President Obama and Sec. Duncan push this kind of abhorrent policy?  Your guess is as good as mine, but my guess is that by firing teachers and forcing schools to close serves the privatization model pushed by these very same foundations and corporations.

Is it a good thing that inner city schools are closed and that qualified and experienced minority teachers are replaced by inexperienced teachers in the schools that remain open? Is it any wonder that the Chicago Teachers Union has fought back by striking and by fighting the discrimination of minority teachers firings in court?  The Seattle teachers are now fighting the teach to the test mentality that is not preparing our students to think critically.

“For the Seattle teachers, the issue is the district decision to require Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests three times per year and to use the results to judge teachers.  The testing juggernaut is out of control and teachers and students are the ones who are directly in its path.  Similarly, when Chicago teachers went on strike in September, a key issue was the misuse of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Both actions are part of a growing national resistance to high-stakes testing that includes not only teachers but parents, students, principals, school boards, and education professors and researchers. This resistance includes a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing signed by more than 475 organizations and 14,000 individuals.  In Seattle, some parents had been opting their children out of the tests even before the teachers’ boycott. These parents understand that the Garfield teachers have a powerful case against these tests and their uses.”  Yahoo News

Not only is this bad education policy, it continues the corporate backed austerity measures that do nothing but make the economy worse by firing people and making it harder for those same companies to get qualified and educated workers.  Is it possible that the true goal of the Race to the Top program is to make sure the public school system fails and allows for charter and private schools to fill the void at a huge cost to the public?

I realize some schools are not successful, but to make the closure of schools that are working to obtain more Federal dollars is not a progressive policy.  What do you think?

114 thoughts on “Obama’s Race to the Bottom”

  1. Does Obama understand Race to the Top? — Ravitch
    By Valerie Strauss

    This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement that she just updated.

    Dear Deborah,

    I don’t know about you, but I am growing convinced that President Barack Obama doesn’t know what Race to the Top is. I don’t think he really understands what his own administration is doing to education. In his State of the Union address last week, he said that he wanted teachers to “stop teaching to the test.” He also said that teachers should teach with “creativity and passion.” And he said that schools should reward the best teachers and replace those who weren’t doing a good job. To “reward the best” and “fire the worst,” states and districts are relying on test scores. The Race to the Top says they must.
    Deconstruct this. Teachers would love to “stop teaching to the test,” but Race to the Top makes test scores the measure of every teacher. If teachers take the President’s advice (and they would love to!), their students might not get higher test scores every year, and teachers might be fired, and their schools might be closed.
    Why does President Obama think that teachers can “stop teaching to the test” when their livelihood, their reputation, and the survival of their school depends on the outcome of those all-important standardized tests?

    Funnily enough, President Obama said something similar last year during a town hall meeting. He said that his daughters, who attend the elite Sidwell Friends school, took a standardized test, and they didn’t have any preparation for it. He said:
    “Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

    “Too often, what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressure-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.”

    Teachers must have been excited when they heard what the President said then because he showed that he really understood the dangers of high-stakes testing. He said:

    “So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

    Teachers must have been jumping for joy when they heard this, because they know that states and districts have been reducing the time available for the arts, history, civics, physical education, everything other than the tests of reading and mathematics. That excellent teacher-blogger Anthony Cody pointed out in his review of his speech that the President was “blasting his own education policies.”

    Do you think that President Obama just doesn’t understand that Race to the Top has encouraged states to double down on high-stakes testing? Maybe he doesn’t realize that the strategies of his administration rely totally on test scores. Do you think no one from the U.S. Department of Education has explained that merit pay has been tried again and again and has never succeeded? Did anyone tell him about the Vanderbilt study of 2010, in which Nashville teachers were offered bonuses of $15,000? Did anyone tell him that those big bonuses didn’t lead to higher test scores? Did anyone tell him about the New York City plan for school-wide bonuses, which cost the city $56 million, and produced no difference in test scores? Has anyone told him or First Lady Michelle Obama about the districts and states (like Florida) that may eliminate (or have eliminated) their requirement for physical education because more time is needed for test prep?

    Do you think he understands that his Race to the Top program is demoralizing teachers across the nation? Does he know that teachers are not allowed to teach with creativity and passion because they might be fired for not following their district-mandated script?
    He’s a smart man. I can’t believe that he really doesn’t know that Race to the Top is no better, and in some ways is even worse, than No Child Left Behind. NCLB holds schools accountable; Race to the Top holds individual teachers accountable. Does he know that almost one of every three principals in the state of New York has signed a letter of protest against the test-based evaluations that Race to the Top imposes?

    He wants the teacher-bashing to end, but I wonder if he knows that the worst teacher-bashing started because of his and Arne Duncan’s rhetoric about firing teachers if their students got low test scores?

    When I saw Linda Darling-Hammond last week in California, she gave me charts from the U.S. Department of Education’s Schools and Staffing Survey which show that the modal years of teaching experience in 1987-88 was 15 (meaning that there were more teachers with 15 years of experience than any other group); in the latest published survey, 2007-08, the modal years of experience was one. That means that in 2008 there were more teachers in their first year of teaching than any other group. This is frightening. What sane nation would want to lose its experienced teachers and rely increasingly on newcomers?

    Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but they should be evaluated by knowledgeable professionals—their supervisors and peers. Of course, incompetent teachers should be fired, but first they should have a chance to improve. If they can’t improve, they don’t belong in the classroom.

    The irony of all this is that President Obama opposes high-stakes testing. He has now said so twice. Why does he endorse policies that require what he personally opposes?

    The pesident also said that states could reduce the dropout rate by requiring students to stay in school until they are 18. Do you think students drop out because they aren’t required by law to stay in school? I think the president should learn more about the reasons students leave before he proposes a law to force them to stay against their will. If he did, he might have better suggestions for lowering the dropout rate.

    And one other thing. President Obama referred approvingly to the Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff study of value-added assessment and said that “good teachers” would produce lifetime gains of $250,000 per classroom. Did anyone tell him that if there are 25 students in a class and each of them works for 40 years, then each one will gain $250 a year? Now, I’m not putting down a gain of $250 a year (that’s four or five times to fill your gas tank), and I certainly believe in the importance of good teachers. I don’t think that doubling down even more on standardized tests in reading and math is the right way to identify good or great teachers. If we push more on that line of thinking, teaching to the test is a necessity, not a choice.

    I just wish that the president would change course on Race to the Top. It’s even more demoralizing for teachers and principals than NCLB. It emphasizes testing at every turn, and it will not allow anyone to “stop teaching to the test.”


  2. Mike Spindell — I never watch Fox News, but thanks for the stereo type. I guess anyone who disagrees with you on an issue must be “one of them”. You have aptly demonstrated one of the biggest problems in America today – the inability to have a conversation with someone you disagree with without resorting to insults and name-calling.

    I have been reading this blog for quite some time. I agree with many of your posts and disagree with others – its called dialogue. We are seeing the results of this new national behavior (I/We are 100% right and everyone else is 100% wrong – and “stupid” or of lesser value – or even evil) on a larger scale playing out in Washington right now.

    I firmly believe that none of us has 100% of the answer and that each of us has part of the answer – we all have different life experiences and perspectives to offer. Together, if we are willing to listen to each other openly, we can solve any problem.

    Rafflaw — you are correct and I made an over-generalization. That said, I see two issues with public education that are, in fact, related to unions. The first is in fact the total value of their pay package. While I agree with all of your assertions regarding the education and value of teachers, in many districts throughout the country, they are paid far more than taxpayers with similar qualifications who must pay the taxes to support them. Second, the adamant refusal of the teachers’ unions to allow any measurement of job performance at all leaves them uniquely alone — most of us, have our performance regularly reviewed by superiors, peers, and even subordinates. Without feedback, none of us can grow.

    In general, I am a strong supporter of unions as they help even the “power imbalance” between workers and large employers. However, in the case of public unions, you have a ‘warping” of the economic incentives of the participants on both sides that skews the results. Public sector unions give millions of dollars to those elected officials who are negotiating the appropriateness of the union members’ pay and benefits. This distorts the negotiation and the taxpayer is left out in the cold. Rather than workers and management negotiating to obtain an efficient result, you really have no one at the table looking at the “cost” side of things for the taxpayers.

  3. What Race to the Top Has Accomplished
    By Diane Ravitch
    October 6, 2012

    Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    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.

    Is this what President Obama meant when he referred to the “results” of his Race to the Top? It explains why Romney applauded it and specifically hailed Arne Duncan.

    This reader has a different view of Race to the Top:

    In addition to the intimidation and demoralization of teachers, Race to the Top is having its intended results: the destabilization, fragmentation and privatization of the public schools.

    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.

  4. I know what you mean Elaine! My wife still has 2-4 years left before retirement and even then she might not be able to afford to retire then.

  5. rafflaw,

    I’m living in the lap of luxury on my teacher retirement pension, doncha know? That’s why I only buy used cars.


  6. Eric,
    please show us how the schools make millionaires out of teachers. I am not talking about administrators or board members, but teachers. Most teachers are college educated and in many instances with advanced degrees and they have the most important job in our society,but we can’t pay them for what they are worth.

  7. I feel very thankful that I can afford private education for my child. Unfortunately, American Public Schools no longer have any value with respect to educating our children. They are, however, wonderful income generating mechanisms for union members.

    1. “They are, however, wonderful income generating mechanisms for union members.”


      As I said on another thread you are an idiot. My guess is that you get your information from FOXNews solely.

  8. I think people have veered off course when they start talking about whether privatizing schools “works” or if private or charter schools teach better than public schools.

    Privatizing schools (and vouchers that encourage that) or a for-profit system in schooling is discriminatory on the basis of wealth, that is what is wrong with the idea; it creates and perpetuates a caste system. It leaves the bottom economic 50% less educated than upper economic 50%, that makes the children born into the bottom 50%, through no fault of their own (and often no fault of their parents) less educated, therefore less employable, less expert in navigating the system, more likely to experience various deprivations in housing safety, health care, developmental nutrition, and income that all contribute to the desperation and societal resentment that are the true causes of crime and drug use.

    The point of providing a basic education for all children is to give them a better chance of reaching their potential, no matter their color or economic status.

    It is at least a plausible premise that expensive private schools with financial resources for teaching tools and teachers have a much better success rate than a school in an economically poor school district whose average parental income is in the bottom 30% of all school districts.

    Why is that relevant? We already know it is politically impossible to increase the nationwide per-student budget to “good private school” levels for all students. Without a radical (near revolutionary) political reform, we cannot send every kid to the “Harvards” of elementary and high school.

    Our sights have to be set for what is uniformly achievable with the resources that we have. To achieve that uniformity, poorer districts need more money than richer districts in order to meet the greater problems of poorer students; they need more security, they need more nutritional supplement programs, and they often need more nurses and psychologists and teachers. Unlike the richer districts, the poorer districts have to overcome a culture of poverty stricken adults that are, for various reasons, indifferent to academic success.

    But just because the parents are indifferent, we have mountains of evidence that nutrition, safety, and academic success are in fact the key to their children escaping the poverty that is not their fault, and failing to provide that key perpetuates the cycle of poverty to the next generation, and wastes minds and resources that would otherwise have been contributors to society, instead of drains upon it.

    The answer is not to close schools, fire teachers, and concentrate the money in the schools for children that already have a leg up. In fact I think that will do more harm than good and the opposite is true; sending the money into the poorest school districts, at the expense of the richest, does the most good by (partially) leveling the playing field. The richest school districts already have the culture of academic success, sufficient health care and nutrition and safety and financial resources to let their children bloom; they need the LEAST of society’s money to succeed.

    It is the schools with the worst outcomes that need help, and as is usually the case, the solutions to the problem are not direct but indirect: The school has to become safe (also from bullies, gangs, and drug dealers), transportation to and from home has to be safe, the children need to be medically and nutritionally cared for; vision and hearing need to be tested and corrected, and classes need to be small enough that individual problems can be addressed individually.

    1. “The answer is not to close schools, fire teachers, and concentrate the money in the schools for children that already have a leg up. In fact I think that will do more harm than good and the opposite is true; sending the money into the poorest school districts, at the expense of the richest, does the most good by (partially) leveling the playing field.”

      Tony’s comment, which the above is just a part of, brilliantly states the essence of this issue and its effect upon not only education, but economic equality in this country. A thought that occurs to me is that beyond the academic benefits of going to better schools there is another benefit that is pervasive, but seldom mentioned. Friendships developed in elementary and high school often become lasting ones. One of the ways people advance economically in this country is by being hired by people who know them. We know the interrelationships in the upper class among people who have attended the same Prep School often lead to successful futures. This is yet another advantage that is lacking for those who are on the “bottom”.

  9. Beverellie,
    I don’t know about your schools, but my wife teaches in a middle school in far suburban Chicago and she stas after school every day to help students. She does have to deal with family problems and discipline issues, but many of her problems revolve around parental issues.

  10. Excellent article. Your words need to be spoken from the highest mountain to the lowest valley.

    I may offend others by what I think will improve schools but here goes…

    Stringent testing of new teachers. Do any of you know any of the “average” teachers who are beginning their career in education? Well, I know several and I would not want them teaching my child. Read something they have written or look at their checkbook for simple math skills. Oh, they can relate to the kids much better than our teachers did, but that is only because they are on the same maturity level. It is both sad and scarey.

    The older teachers are not much better but in a different way. They are so bogged down with “teaching to the test” mentality, discipline problems, social work training, drills for fire, safety and attacks that they have little time to actually teach. And then there is the paperwork. Someone needs to look back fifty years ago and find out where we started going wrong.

    I take issue with the amount of money spent on sports programs in schools. I am much more of a calisthenics and then get to work kind of individual. I also believe in solid classes and one period a day for a class that the student shows a particular interest in…art, music, cooking, etc. We need to get back to the basics of solid learning and a lot less of the “free to be you and me” learning our schools have turned into.

    I remember the days when a teacher would stay for an hour after school to help students who were struggling. I remember mentoring programs where a student from the high school would come to the grammar school to work one-on-one with a struggling student. How about a clean, healthy environment where kids can learn and grow without fear.

    Just fond rememberances from a bygone era I suppose, but none the less, a better education system than we have today.

  11. Another Bush family member has a big financial stake in one of these so called ‘education’ corporations. Barbara Bush donated some money to Houston after katrina, but it could only be used to buy his crappy system for the schools..

  12. A Battle Between Education and Business Goals
    Pauline Lipman

    Chicago was the birthplace of neoliberal education reform — high-stakes testing, closing neighborhood public schools and turning them over to private operators, expanding charter schools, running schools like businesses, test-based teacher evaluation, prescribed standards, and mayoral control of schools.

    Over the past 15 years, these policies were promoted nationally by corporate philanthropies, conservative think tanks, and recently by billionaire-initiated education reform organizations like Stand for Children and Education Reform Now. The Chicago agenda became the official national agenda when President Obama appointed Chicago’s chief executive schools, Arne Duncan, to be his Secretary of Education.

    The first thing Duncan did was fly to Detroit and tell that financially devastated school system that they would have an infusion of federal funds, but only if they did things very differently – that is, implement the Chicago model. That model became the criteria for awarding $4.3 billion in federal funds to states, known as Race to the Top.

    Yet, closing schools has destabilized students and communities and had little positive effect on achievement. Test-based merit pay has been shown to have little validity as a measure of teacher effectiveness. And charter schools are doing no better, and sometimes worse, than regular public schools and are more racially segregated.

    But more deeply, at the school level, there is plenty of research showing that these policies have reduced the curriculum to what is tested, demoralized teachers and degraded the teaching force, and left parents and students with no public school options in their communities.

    These are not education policies, but rather business policies applied to schools with business goals: promoting top-down management, weakening unions, shifting the purpose of education to labor force preparation, and opening up the $2 trillion dollar global education sector to the market.

  13. About That Bipartisan Consensus to Privatize Public Education
    By Diane Ravitch
    November 18, 2012

    If ever evidence was needed about the bizarre mind meld between the Obama administration and the far-right of the Republican party, here it is.

    Secretary Arne Duncan is giving the keynote to Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education summit in Washington, D.C. on November 28. Another keynote will be delivered to the same gathering of the leaders of the privatization movement by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, who headed the Obama transition team in 2008. This is sickening.

    Jeb Bush’s organization supports vouchers, charters, online virtual charters, and for-profit organizations that run schools. It also supports evaluating teachers by student test scores and eliminating collective bargaining. Jeb Bush believes in grading schools, grading teachers, grading students, closing schools, and letting everyone “escape” from public schools to privately-run establishments. The free market is his ideal of excellence, not public responsibility, not the public school as the anchor of the community, but privatization.

  14. Secretary Duncan Owes an Apology to Teachers
    By John Thompson
    Posted: 06/01/2012

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked teachers in New Haven, “how do we as a teaching profession create a climate in which everyone is clamoring to come into schools” being turned around under his School Improvement Grant (SIG) experiment. I hope that the word “we” means that his administration and teachers should be partners, and that he will stop aiding “reformers” in their war on teachers. If so, Duncan should start with an apology to teachers in general, and inner city teachers in particular.

    Duncan seemed perplexed that only one teacher left a top-performing school to join a turnaround of low-performing school. This should be especially unsettling to Duncan because New Haven has worked with the American Federation of Teachers to create a balanced evaluation system. In many or most districts that have responded to Duncan’s campaign to use test scores for firing teachers, leaving a low-poverty school for a turnaround school, where it will be harder to meet test score growth targets, could be career suicide.

    And that gets to the first reason why Duncan needs to apologize. While he empowered enlightened districts like New Haven, Duncan has also empowered teacher-bashing in Washington D.C., with its abusive top-down IMPACT system for firing teachers. Duncan praised collaborative systems such as Hillsborough and Pittsburgh, while funding efforts in states like Florida and Tennessee to turn schools into test prep factories. Pressure from Duncan’s DOE is cited as the reason why Buffalo must be willing to fire teachers based on the test scores of chronically absent students, but New York City and D.C. faced no sanctions when they used policies inspired by Duncan’s SIG and RttT to drive out good teachers based on flawed test score models.

    So, Duncan should start by saying he is sorry for imposing collective punishment on teachers in schools destined for turnaround. His demand that 50% of teachers be replaced in those schools, along with his incentives for using a statistical model for firing teachers, means that effective educators have lost their careers simply because they taught in ineffective schools. His mass dismissals perpetuate the “reformers'” myth that teachers’ “low expectations” are the cause of dysfunctional schools. Under Duncan’s rules, districts did not have to impose litmus tests on teachers or to systematically drive veteran educators out of the profession. But he funded districts that, predictably, used federal rules to get rid of Baby Boomers’ higher salaries and benefits, and to keep veteran teachers from expressing their professional judgments.

    For instance, two of the three teachers who spoke their minds to Duncan explained that teaching in the inner city is different, meaning that they need more training and supports. A New Haven teacher told Duncan that “teachers who are not familiar with urban education are ‘not ready’ for an environment like New Haven.” Those sorts of judgments are heresy to many school and district leaders, however. Under SIG, expressing such opinions can be grounds for dismissal for being a “culture killer.” Under SIG, administrators are empowered to impose their own culture on schools by getting rid of teachers who believe what The Turnaround Challenge concluded — that instruction-driven reforms, even those fueled by “high expectations,” are inherently incapable of turning around the toughest schools and that schooling must be a team effort.

    Duncan should also apologize for his heavy-handed micromanaging of local policy. He created incentives for spending much (or most?) SIG and RttT money on computer systems, tests, and consultants. He has said nice things about full-service community schools and even provided a few meager grants that would fund the socio-emotional interventions and the early education that are required to overcome intense concentrations of poverty. At a time when those researched-based best practices are being cut, however, Duncan is lavishing funds on performance pay and the test-driven infrastructure that it requires. He again revealed where his heart is when a New Haven teacher said, “No one becomes a teacher to get rich.” Duncan replied, “we’re working on that.”

    Duncan asked, “where is the badge of honor” that would attract teachers to the toughest schools? The greatest reward for a teacher is the opportunity to teach effectively. We would feel honored, however, if our professional wisdom would be heeded before billions of dollars are spent (wasted?) on market-driven policies that were adopted simply because the “billionaires boys club” liked those types of policies. Had he respected the conclusions of inner city teachers and researchers at the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center, Duncan could have invested in the human capital necessary to provide mentors and other support staff necessary to make teaching a team sport. He could have invested in a farm club for nurturing talent for the toughest schools.

  15. Thanks Gene!
    Swarthmore Mom,
    Thanks for the link. I do not see Obama in Barrington Hills. He will stay in Hyde Park or Hawaii.

  16. Henman. The movement toward privatization started way before Obama and will go on well after he has gone, and there were failing schools before he took office, and there will be when he is no longer president. Chicago had failing schools when I was a kid which is getting to be a very long time ago. Obama had not even been born yet. I will bet you that Obama never lives in Barrington Hills. It is not his style.

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