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Race to the Top

The scientific evidence or research for the four interventions proposed for school improvement grants is, at best, sketchy. …. If we are going to mandate interventions from the federal level we need to be clear about why we are mandating such reforms and what evidence we have for our actions. Otherwise I worry that we are not learning from NCLB and are just repeating our mistakes.

Sen. Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Someone in our listening audience last night during the Parents Across America conference call asked a question regarding Race to the Top. To follow was my answer.

Based on Arne Duncan’s experience as CFO of Chicago Public Schools, he has brought to our nation a program that was used in Chicago titled Renaissance 2010 with mixed results.

duncan broad inaug
Arne Duncan with Eli Broad at Obama’s Inauguration Ball

Secretary Duncan has established prerequisites that a state must follow to receive Race to the Top funds. This money was a total of $5.4B which seems like a lot of money. Someone calculated that each child in the state of Washington would have received $22 of funding with the money that would have been awarded. This isn’t much compared to the disruption of schools and neighborhoods that is demanded by the Race to the Top requirements or the cost that it would have taken to make these changes by each district.

The requirements to receive funding was that these “low performing” schools, based on test scores, were to do one of the following:


  • Close the school.
  • Close the school and re-open it as a charter school also referred to as a school “turnaround”.
  • Fire half of the teaching staff.
  • Replace the principal

When looking at what Arne Duncan did in Chicago, close schools and turn them into charter schools, we see that over the last several years, that “reform” provided no results beyond what other school districts have achieved and others have achieved greater success by different means.

One of many concerns regarding the edicts of RTTT is that with high stakes testing, most of the focus is placed on teaching to the test which denies students the opportunity to explore a wider range of subjects or gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

And closing schools might seem like a simple task but then what happens to the students who attend those schools? Where do they go?

To answer that question, you can read Chicago School Closings Found to Yield Few Gains. Here is the opening sentence:

A majority of Chicago students affected by school closings were sent to schools that were low-performing, just like those they left behind—moves that had no significant impact on performance for most students, a study released last week finds.

Regarding the notion of school “turn around” or replacing half of the staff, a good article on that is Drastic School Turnaround Strategies Are Risky.

Here is an excerpt:

Strategies to turn schools around are modeled after turnarounds in the corporate world, where it is easier to fire and rehire staff and leaders. Yet even in the business world, results are rarely positive. One review of the literature found that only about one-fourth of businesses that undertook turnaround initiatives were able to institute major changes in their structure and management, and even those businesses did not show increased economic performance (Hess & Gift, 2008).

 Studies that have looked at attempts to replace entire school staffs—referred to as reconstitution—agree that merely replacing teachers does not lead to improved instruction. Case studies of three reconstituted schools in one large urban district found that replacing the staff had little effect on quality, school organization, or student performance (Malen, Croninger, Muncey, & Redmond-Jones, 2002). Even a U.S. Department of Education guide shares this conclusion: “The school turnaround case studies and the business turnaround research do not support the wholesale replacement of staff” (Herman et al., 2008, p. 28).

And here is a teacher’s viewpoint on the subject, Letter from a Teacher in a School Designated for Closing by the DOE in order to receive “Race To The Top Money”.

Here is an excerpt:

Regardless of his intentions, Bloomberg is seriously demoralizing hundreds of hard-working and gifted teachers, making it harder for us to enthusiastically adopt any future changes. He is creating a negative image of their schools and their children’s teachers in the eyes of parents and community. The damage will persist long after this spat between DOE and UFT has been resolved.

To date there have been about 100 schools in Chicago “turned around” as started when Arne Duncan was the CFO of the Chicago School District. Most, if not all of these schools, have been in the most impoverished communities. When these school turn-arounds occur, everyone is affected, even the lunch ladies. See Firing Everyone, Even the Lunch Ladies, to Fix Failing Schools.

In Chicago, dozens of lunch ladies are leaving the schools they’ve worked at–sometimes for years. That’s because those schools are being “turned around”–a strategy that involves removing the entire staff at failing schools to “reset” the culture there. It’s a strategy Education Secretary Arne Duncan is now pushing nationwide. But a question is: Is it necessary to remove lunch ladies, janitors, and security guards to create better schools?

In terms of firing a principal at a “low-performing” schools, the results can be disastrous and completely unnecessary, see Federal Program Blamed For Long Island City High School Scheduling Chaos. Here is an excerpt:

Long Island City High School is getting millions of dollars to improve under a federal program, but now teachers and administrators say it’s that effort that spun the school into chaos to begin with.

The Queens high school is one of 33 schools in the city that won federal funding to fix its problems rather than shut down. Each gets up to $2 million a year for three years to make some big changes.

However, as NY1 first reported, the changes at Long Island City have not been good.

“What happened to these kids should never have happened to anyone,” said Queens City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr.

Last week, 120 class sections were cut out of the schedule. Four course offerings were canceled entirely, meaning 900 students attended two months of classes in courses that no longer exist. All 3,500 students were given new class schedules with different teachers.

The school blames the transformation program.

“There were a lot of things that weren’t broke that they wanted fixed, and sometimes that causes more problems that really have to be fixed. And it’s been a difficult time dealing with people from Washington feeling that they know better than the people on the ground,” said teacher Ken Achiron.

The grant required replacing the school’s longtime principal, who teachers say dealt well with the complicated scheduling, and also called for the school to be divided into smaller “learning communities.”

And finally, charter schools have achieved mixed results and have brought on many abuses in terms of financial mis-management. Most charter schools are selective in which students are admitted and which students are “counseled out”.

The CREDO report was published three years ago with these findings:

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.

In 2010 Vanderbilt University came out with a research brief regarding academic gains in mathematics. To follow is the summary.

 Mathematics achievement gains were similar for students who attend charter schools and students who attend traditional public schools.

Also see Access Denied: New Orleans Students and Parents Identify Barriers to Public Education, written by the Southern Poverty Law Center,  regarding the selectivity of these publicly funded charter schools.

Another by-product of these schools is high turnover of teachers. See A revolving door for charter teachers. Here is the introductory sentence:

Catalyst’s analysis of employee lists for charter schools confirms what some charter observers have long suspected: High teacher turnover is the norm.

After several years of this notion of reform, the NAACP came out with a resolution regarding charter schools. These are the last sentences of that resolution:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools and will work through local, state and federal legislative processes to ensure that all public schools are provided the necessary funding, support and autonomy necessary to educate all students; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP will urge all of its Units to work to support public schools throughout the nation to educate all children to their highest potential.

And finally, regarding Renaissance 2010, Arne Duncan’s program in Chicago when he was CFO of the Chicago Public School system:

The purpose of Renaissance 2010 [in Chicago] was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability – a code word for legitimizing more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago’s 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district’s alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Renaissance 2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and “performance” schools.

Kearney’s web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, ‘Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.

Duncan’s advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment.”

Henry Giroux & Kenneth Saltman
Obama’s Betrayal of Public Education?

There is a grassroots effort that is bubbling up to demand that Arne Duncan be replaced. Secretary Duncan has no background in pubic education as a  teacher or as an administrator and that is apparent in this program that he developed which he termed “Race to the Top” that swept the country with devastating results.


The following is additional information compiled by Parents Across America regarding Race to the Top:

Facts, Research Support Parents Across America’s ESEA position

Race to the Top Corporate Style Reform vs. Class Size Reduction

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