Sunday, September 26, 2010

Unpacking Race to the Top (National Testing)– Part 2

It’s common knowledge now that California was not selected for the second round of Race to the Top (RTTT) funding. This releases school districts from their commitment to the binding no opt out Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding agreement signed earlier in the year. I will, therefore, not be unpacking the California RTTT MOU agreement because it no longer applies to the education of students in California. But I will continue to voice my concerns.

The 10 winners in this second round of RTTT applications include Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington D.C.

They will be joining Delaware and Tennessee as RTTT recipients.

Race to the Top, however, has not become irrelevant for the remaining states. The goals of Race to the Top are still well on their way to being accomplished in California and nationwide. Also, the U.S. Congress may authorize a third round of RTTT applications.

The ultimate goal of RTTT is to wrest control of public education from states, local control, and from unions. I really wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if I believed that direct federal control of public schools would be an improvement. I don’t. I believe that federally control public education will have the same quality as federal government issued peanut butter and cheese.

Most of the reforms approved by Race to the Top are what educators have accepted as common sense good practices:

· An efficient system of collecting and sharing of student data.

· Formative assessments to guide instruction.

· Time during the school day for professional educators to meet as interdependent teams to collaboratively review the data to raise the level of learning for students.

· And the development of rigorous Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses.

There are other requirements however that needs closer scrutiny and a lot more discussion before acceptance. The scrapping of the California Content Standards to implement the Common Core Standards is one.

The Common Core Standards are what have become the national educational standards for English language arts and mathematics. Adopting these standards is a requirement for Race to the Top funding. On August 2nd, the California State Board of Education voted to include California among the 34 states that have adopted these standards.

The rationale behind national standards is that some states have adopted less educational rigorous standards than other states and are thereby beating the No Child Left Behind accountability system. If the state standards are low – then the high stakes state test is easier than the states with more rigorous standards.

Unfortunately, the Race to the Top requirement is forcing states that do have rigorous standards to adopt the Common Core Standards as our de facto national core educational standards.

The Associated Press stated that critics worried that the common standards weren’t as stringent as California’s frameworks. During the process of adoption, Kathy Gaither, California Undersecretary of Education, stated, “It’s clear the general consensus is that the common core is not by itself as rigorous as California’s standards.”

As a compromise, the complete Common Core Standards will be supplemented with parts of California’s content standards. The Common Core Standards will make up no less than 85% of California’s new education standards. About 15% of the standards will be from California’s previous content standards.

To be fair, much of California’s content standards while considered rigorous have been criticized for being an inch deep and a mile wide. Also, the comparison between California’s Content Standards and the Common Core Standards may be much like apples versus oranges. California’s standards are content standards with specifics on knowledge and the Common Core Standards are more procedural with emphasis on higher order thinking.

I am willing to concede that the Common Core Standards may be more of what students need to be competitive in the 21st century. Suspicion, however, should be raised when considering the political manner in which it is being adopted. States are adopting these standards to get the millions of federal dollars attached to it to stabilize their own bankrupted economies. The Common Core Standards became a requirement for Race to the Top funding long before the final version was released. And there is no evidence that these standards are any better than the previous state standards.

But alas, they are now the de facto national core educational standards. California’s implementation plan will have them fully implemented by the year 2014. The process will include revamping textbooks, teacher resources, and a new online national test in which California will help in its development.

California will participate in a multistate consortium to develop assessments aligned to the Common Core Standards that will be ready by 2014. Unlike the current pencil and paper fill in the bubble high stakes states tests - the National Test(s) that will come from this consortium will be online. I suppose it will be more like click on the answer type test.

If No Child Left Behind narrowed the curriculum to what is tested, the new National Test will further narrow the curriculum to what is tested on the Common Core Standards.

California loses bid for Race to the Top education grant

Buzzwords in Winning Race to the Top Application

School districts shoot for 3rd round of Race to the Top funding

California adopts new academic standards

Common core standards –customized for California headed to State Board soon

Racing to National Tests?

Race to the top promises new era of standardized testing

U.S. Schools Chief to push disclosure of education data

Please visit me at Facebook - Carlos Mendoza