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Falling Short in the Race to the Top

Falling Short in the Race to the Top

Credit: KING

by Cynthia Wise, Senior Assignments Editor / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 29, 2010 at 3:55 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 30 at 8:12 AM

Last week I posted the first in a series of blogs on education reform. Today that series continues with a look at Washington's chances in the Race to the Top (RTTT) - an Obama administration program designed to improve student performance and provide children in the United States with the tools necessary to compete in the global economy.

The U.S. Department of Education today announced that the states of Delaware and Tennessee are the winners in the battle for RTTT funding. The two will share in more than $600-thousand in federal monies. A summary of scores for the 40 states that applied for the money (Washington was not one of them), shows Delaware ranked at the top, scoring 454.6 out of 500 possible points.

In making the announcement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan credited both states with having "statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students." 

A few hours after the federal announcement and amid much fanfare, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation she hopes will help qualify our state for the next round of Race to the Top monies that are set for distribution later this year. Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 6696 "finds that it is the state's responsibility to create a coherent and effective accountability framework for the continuous improvement for all schools and district to provide: 1) An excellent and equitable education for all students; 2) An aligned federal/state accountability system; and 3) The tools necessary for schools and districts to be accountable, including the necessary accounting and data reporting systems, assessment systems to monitor student achievement and a system of general support, targeted assistance, and if necessary, intervention."

Sounds great, doesn't it?

The problem is that state officials know the bill doesn't go far enough. According to a statement from State Superintendent Randy Dorn released in January, while there are good points to 6696, the bill stops short of meeting the criteria necessary to win RTTT monies. It fails in a number of areas including the state's lack of truly independent charter schools. The Department of Education's 500-point scale on which grant applications are scored assigns 40 points for charter schools. Even with some innovative schools like the School of the Arts in Tacoma and Aviation High in Des Moines, Dorn says Washington will likely receive no more than 10 points. Most states allow the poorest performing 5-percent of schools to become charter schools or "innovation zones." Washington is one of ten states that do not have provisions for charter schools.

Washington also falls short when it comes to replacing poor teachers. RTTT guidelines include provisions in a number of categories in their rubric for ensuring teacher effectiveness. Dorn calls Washington's process for removing ineffective teachers "cumbersome."

Additionally, the state falls short in linking how students perform on high stakes tests to how those results might help determine how they might improve... and how both of those results might be linked to teacher performance. As a result, even if Washington applies in the next round of the Race to the Top, it is unlikely our state will finish above any of the finalists from the first round. One wonders if today's signing amounted to an orchestrated shell game designed to keep our eyes off the real issues... 1) nearly 15-thousand children in Washington are dropping out of school every year and,  2) state courts have found that even those students who do stay in school are not being provided with a basic education.

By the way, Governor Gregoire last week silently directed the state to file notice that Washington will be appealing last month's ruling by Judge John Erlick on basic education. According to a Seattle Times article on the matter, the Governor said legislators need more clear direction as they move ahead with education reform.  

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