Thursday, August 26, 2010

Race to the Top

I have a lot of questions about Florida's win in the Race to the Top funding competition. Will only struggling schools receive funding? I don't think so, but I think struggling schools will recieve the lion's share of funds(only appropriate, right?). Isn't that opposite of our former school grades system that rewarded A schools with more money than D and F schools?

Will all schools be expected to implement the reforms even if they aren't funded at the school site? I think my biggest question though is about teacher and principal evaluation. My county posted this overview of Race to the Top plans last year. There are several items to celebrate: career and professional academies, increased opportunities for STEM education, advanced classes, positive behavior systems, mentoring and more. But how will districts, and my district specifically, revamp teacher compensation systems? The Memorandum of Understanding calls for a teacher compensation system that "ties the most significant gains in salary to effectiveness." How will effectiveness be measured? Surely we'll get more than one shot to showcase effectiveness right? Or will effectiveness come to down to a solitary standardized test score? Don't get me wrong, I think standardized tests, and the FCAT in particular have value.

Tests, judiciously used, can provide valuable data I use to compare students to a norm group or to a set of criteria. But measure a teacher's effectiveness? I can plan instruction using testing data. But can I plan and execute student behavior? Human beings are entirely too complex to be categorized by one score, one measure, one 2.5 hour bubble in the answer test. And we certainly can't capture that complexity with monthly or quarterly tests that continuously interrupt instruction.

I am teaching as hard as I can, but some years, with some students, my best does not seem to be good enough. Perhaps that's politics working to, as Alan Sitomer says, "shame me into working harder" or spur me into "working for less." But we've been working for less. And this year we went to a 7 period school day. Teachers teach 6 classes instead of 5 to meet class size amendment laws. The other reason the school day has changed has to do with budget shortfalls. For every 6 teachers we need one less in our English department. With 48 minute classes, my students this year get 1,800 less minutes of instruction in language arts. That's 30 hours. That's one month less in my English classroom. But we are measured on the same scales we used to measure last year's students.

I wished we measured growth. In Florida we measure learning gains. We say we measure growth, but growth is strictly defined. The state defines growth or a learning gain as 77 developmental scale score points. Is 77 points statistically significant? Is 10 points practically significant? One hundred percent of my students do not make learning gains on our FCAT test. One of my best years, more than 80 % of my students improved, but less than 70% made that magical 77 point gain. In the state's eyes those students didn't make a year's worth of growth. Did we all walk on the same day? Did you master bike riding on the same day that all of the neighborhood kids did? Dick Allington says that more than 50 years of educational research has proven one thing: kids are different.

I'm thankful Florida will receive funding. Our schools need the money. But it's money with serious strings attached.


  1. I have many thoughts as I read your is that Illinois wasn't a winner. I live in both states...and am pleased for Florida...but Illinois has problems too...many similar to Florida. But problems weren't the deciding factor. We,whoever we is...and I believe "we" to be those with a loud voice...need to influence some of the very concerns you speak to: added value teacher evaluations, limitations of current NCLB testing (which for you is FCAT and for Illinois....ACT), providing ongoing support for teachers in the most struggling of schools...and maybe for the families, too....there is SO much....I gotta heart is racing...not for the top but for those still at the bottom and without a net to catch them!

  2. It is really frustrating and now that I'm in a system with no exit exam, I'm wondering how fair it is to compare graduation rates. People in my current system brag about the graduation rate and how it compares with the rest of the U.S., but is it fair to make that comparison when these kids have one fewer hoop to jump through? And I will be very interested to learn how effective teaching is identified in a system with no annual standardized test in high school.

  3. My heart races too when I think about it, Dea. One step at a time with the students that will be sitting in front of me for day 6 of this school year tomorrow. Lee, no exit exam in Japan? How is that if you are teaching American students in government funded schools. I'm flummoxed by that. Truly. I guess what's good for the geese is not actually good enough for the gander after all.