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Race to the Top: Smaller Is Better?

President Barack Obama proposed extending Race to the Top to school districts in his budget request this year. We still don’t know whether Congress is going to take him up on that suggestion, but we don’t have to wait to see how the program operates when it’s basically just at a district level. Two of the winners, the District of Columbia and Hawaii, include just one school district (not including charters, which sometimes count as their own districts).

If you think about it, small may have been an (inadvertent) advantage in the application process. Two of the other winners, Delaware and Rhode Island, are tiny states. A smaller size might make it easier to get buy-in and to do the kind of outreach needed for a strong application. California may have recognized this edge. It’s a huge state, but it worked with a relatively small group of districts for its Round 2 application, and ended up making the finals. (Scorers did note that they were dismayed that only a small percentage of districts in the state were participating.)

This opens up an important question and one I wonder if Congress is considering: Would single school districts have an advantage over whole states in a possible Round 3 of the competition?

Besides having a potentially easier path in getting buy-in, districts might have an easier time tailoring their plans since they’re likely to be dealing with a more homogeneous group of schools. Plus, if the Education Department keeps those spending brackets in place, grants for districts are likely to be smaller, meaning more districts could win. —Alyson Klein


R-E-$-P-E-C-T for Early Educators

Last week, the Massachusetts-based Bessie Tartt Wilson Initiative for Children released a white paper outlining four strategies to improve pay for child-care workers, Head Start teachers, and others who work with young children outside pre-K in public schools. These early-childhood educators average $11.77 per hour, or $24,480 a year, as full-time workers. Even in states with stronger career ladders, early-educators may only earn an hourly raise of 50 cents for obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

To improve pay and opportunities for professional growth, the report recommends: developing a career ladder with clearly defined job titles and duties; wage increases as educators increase their responsibilities; bonuses to reward training and higher degrees; and building an early-education endowment fund to support the program.

The papers appears to be early stirrings of the same kind of discussion we see in the K-12 world about whether higher pay will attract better-qualified candidates to the profession. Remember, these educators are our children’s first teachers. —Maureen Kelleher



I have not seen “Waiting For ‘Superman,’” but in the one-hour infomercial offered by Oprah Winfrey, I got a pretty good taste, and I think I may have avoided the heartburn it is likely to cause.

Oprah’s guests were Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, and producer Davis Guggenheim. Guggenheim described his motivation for making the film as being from the guilt he felt driving his children to their presumably elite private school, passing by neighborhood schools along the way. So he has made a film that characterizes those schools as hopelessly broken, and offers charter schools as the main hope.

This is the face of propaganda, artfully presented to tug at our heartstrings, to manipulate our sympathies for these poor children, and to arouse our anger towards those bad teachers and their unions that prevent them from being held accountable.

Oprah tried to reassure those of us who might be having a reaction to this, but here is the problem, Oprah: We do not trust the ways that are being cooked up to sort the good teachers from the bad. Especially the methods that rely primarily on test scores, which is what Ms. Rhee relied on to make her determination.

It is not that we “good teachers” want to protect supposedly “bad teachers.” It is that we fear a witch hunt based on test scores will have disastrous consequences for ourselves, our peers, and the students we care about. —Anthony Cody

Vol. 30, Issue 05, Page 10

Published in Print: September 29, 2010, as Blogs of the Week
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