A Skewed `Race to the Top'

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), August 21, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Skewed `Race to the Top'


Byline: The Register-Guard

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has never taught in a classroom, but he has some strong opinions about how to reform the nation's schools.

Duncan doesn't have the authority just to order changes, schools being uniquely local institutions that are run by locally elected boards and, secondarily, legislatures. But it didn't take him long to figure out how to get around that.

He's using money, $4.3 billion of federal stimulus funds. He will divide that money into prizes - grants for states - in what he calls the Race to the Top. About a dozen states that do what he wants in education policy will receive money.

In recent statements, Duncan has made explicit the two things he cares most about in this respect: increasing the number of charter schools and inducing all schools to employ some form of what used to be called merit pay for teachers.

This contest is putting heavy pressure on states where laws restrict or prohibit charter schools or the use of student test scores in evaluating teachers and administrators. The proposed Race to the Top administrative rules say that in order to be eligible to apply for the money, a state must have "no barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation."

California has a law that prohibits the use of student scores in teacher evaluations. The law came into being with the strong backing of the state teachers' union. Now, legislative leaders are scrambling to get the law off the books.

A number of other states, including Washington, still bar charter schools. They probably will lift those prohibitions soon.

Oregon seems to face no obstacles to participation in the Race to the Top. A Republican-controlled Legislature authorized charter schools in 1999; the state had 87 such schools at last count, including nine in Lane County. …

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