If you have been following the legislative circus in California, you might know that the Govinator has called a “special session” to consider enacting a package of education redesign measures—including scrapping a law blocking the state from linking student and teacher data—in hopes of guaranteeing that the state would be eligible for Ed Dept “Race to the Top” funds.
According to the draft criteria for the Race to the Top, states that have a data “firewall” on the books would be automatically disqualified from getting a portion of the $4.35 billion fund.
California Att. Gen Jerry Brown was asked to comment on the legality of the draft criteria and sent a response to Arne Duncan that is reproduced below. In a few short paragraphs, Brown explains exactly what is wrong with the initiatives that have come from the Department of Education since the first implementation of NCLB under Bush and Spelling up to and including Duncan’s current agenda.
Re: Race to the Top Fund [Docket ID ED-2009-OESE-0006]
In view of the hundreds of comments that are being submitted, I am confining my own to just a few general observations.
1. The basic assumption of your draft regulations appears to be that top down, Washington driven standardization is best. This is a “one size fit all” approach that ignores the vast diversity of our federal system and the creativity inherent in local communities. What we have at stake are the impressionable minds of the children of America. You are not collecting data or devising standards for operating machines or establishing a credit score. You are funding teaching interventions or changes to the learning environment that promise to make public education better, i.e. greater mastery of what it takes to become an effective citizen and a productive member of society. In the draft you have circulated, I sense a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.
2. Inherent in the command and control philosophy of your draft regulations is a belief that everyone agrees on what should be taught–to whom and when–and how the lowest performing schools can best be turned around. Yet, there are so many unknowns about what produces educational success that a little humility would be in order. A better way would be to state what educational outcomes children should reach and then permit state and local flexibility to figure out how to reach the desired outcomes. The current draft regulations conflate what must be done with entirely too much specification about how to do it.
3. Curriculum choices are not just technical and “evidence based” issues, but go to the heart of deeply held beliefs and understandings of what children should learn. California’s current curriculum standards have received high national rankings and there is no evidence that they need a radical overhaul.
4. Your draft also specifies very specific data elements that need to be included without sufficient justification for why all these data elements are essential or how they should be utilized.
5. You assume we know how to “turn around all the struggling low performing schools,” when the real answers may lie outside of school. As Oakland mayor, I directly confronted conditions that hindered education, and that were deeply rooted in the social and economic conditions of the community or were embedded in the particular attitudes and situations of the parents. There is insufficient recognition in the draft regulations that inside and outside of school strategies must be interactive and merged.
6. Most current state wide tests rely too much on closed end multiple choice answers and do not contain enough written and open ended responses that require students to synthesize, analyze and solve multi-dimensional problems and construct their own answers.
7. There are huge technical and conceptual problems that remain on how to assess the specific impact of individual teachers and principals on the scores of students on annual state tests. Test score increases and decreases can be caused by many factors in a specific year, and it is beyond the current state of the art to sort out what is the unique and independent influence of teachers and principals. Performance pay schemes for teachers based primarily on annual test scores in other states reveal more about how not to structure performance pay rather than show what are viable ways to restructure teacher compensation. Compensation should to be just one element of a broader approach to improving teacher effectiveness that includes initial recruitment and preparation to retention and professional development.
Having $4.3 billion to spend on education in this time of draconian cuts is a godsend. We in California look forward to joining with you in promoting a real love of learning and outstanding achievement in all our public schools.