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“Failing Schools” Label Preposterous

October 5, 2014

Mokoto Rich’s article in today’s NYTimes includes one major factual error and one major oversight in its reporting. The factual error has to do with it’s reporting on the “history” of Race to the Top, which is presented as a recent workaround on the part of the Obama administration:

Faced with congressional gridlock, the Obama administration two years ago bypassed Congress and issued waivers to 43 states, excusing them from the requirement on the condition that they put into effect rigorous academic standards, such as the Common Core, and incorporate student test scores into performance ratings of teachers.

This is NOT the case at all. The Obama administration introduced “Race to the Top” in 2009 as a means of circumventing the inevitable consequences of No Child Left Behind and used $4,000,000,000 of ARRA funds to launch the initiative. As readers of this blog realize, I was an early and vocal opponent of Race to the Top, writing a lengthy letter and essay to NH State Superintendent Ginny Barry in October 2009 that she subsequently circulated to my colleagues in advance of a meeting held to determine if our state would seek a Race to the Top grant. My reasoning for opposing the grant was primarily its insistence that test scores be used to determine teacher effectiveness. At that writing, five years ago, there was NO evidence that value added measure (VAM) would work and in the years since NO evidence has emerged. To Dr. Barry’s credit and the credit of New Hampshires legislative and school leaders, New Hampshire held out until the very end of the Race To The Top cycle and ended up securing the waivers while minimizing the effect of testing on teacher evaluations. Rich’s oversight was the statistically questionable use of tests to evaluate teachers.

Because I find it maddening that the “newspaper of record” for much of the US made a factual error in its reporting on this issue, I sent the following letter to the editor:

Mokoto Rich’s article Washington State’s predicament regarding the ratings of its public schools attributed the issuance of waivers to a decision the President made “two years ago” to bypass a gridlocked Congress. In fact, the administration began issuing waivers to states as part of the Race To The Top (RTTT) program that was initiated in 2009 using $4 billion of ARRA funds as an incentive. These waivers were offered on the condition that States adopt the Common Core and incorporate student test scores into performance ratings of teachers. Republicans view these waivers as an example of the overreach of Presidential power. At the same time, many educators view them as a means of undercutting State and local control of curriculum. Most opponents decry the overemphasis on standardized testing, especially the statistically questionable use of tests to evaluate teachers. These underlying political and educational issues were overlooked in this report.

I will be interested to see if there is a revision to the article based on the clear and irrefutable error in reporting… but fear that history is being re-written before my very eyes.

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