'RTT' Applicants Need Creative Writing, Too

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To the Editor:

President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan were neither students, parents, nor teachers when the highly touted education reforms known as “whole language” and “discovery math” wreaked havoc in our schools two decades ago. I was a math teacher in Los Angeles and witnessed the costly consequences.

Pondering the “reforms” of 2010—the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the federal Race to the Top program—I can’t help thinking, here we go again.

Three-quarters of the states have recently adopted new common academic standards in math and English/language arts, partly to boost their chances of winning the Race to the Top grant competition. Eleven states plus the District of Columbia have won. As your Sept. 1, 2010, article “Race to Top Now Faces Acid Test” notes, “The winners of the $4 billion now face the task of meeting the goals and deadlines spelled out in their applications, which they acknowledge will be challenging.”

Race to the Top applications required factual information, like agreeing to adopt common academic standards, using student test scores to evaluate teachers, and having the support of teachers’ unions. The 30 criteria for earning 500 possible points required creative writing, too, like proclaiming lofty learning objectives and proposing clever strategies for achieving them.

The lieutenant governor of nonwinner Colorado suggested that Race to the Top scorers “may not have understood the state’s strategy of outlining broad goals for school improvement while leaving implementation details up to local districts.” Winner Hawaii plans to “boost support to struggling, hard-to-staff schools.” But the state’s education department spokesman expressed concern for “making sure that targeted schools and teachers adhere to the new policies.”

How will Secretary Duncan enforce adherence to all this creative writing? And what of the common-core standards accepted in “a giant wave,” according to your earlier article “Curriculum Producers Work to Reflect Common Standards” (Aug. 25, 2010)? “The major educational publishers are adapting long-standing lines of products to the new set of mathematics and English/language arts expectations,” you write. Imagine who will profit from all this creativity. Before the new standards can be shown to be effective—or not—schools nationwide must all buy the costly textbooks that embody them.

Beware of creative writing supporting unproven learning strategies in the name of education reform.

Betty Raskoff Kazmin
Medford, Ore.

Vol. 30, Issue 06, Page 24

Published in Print: October 6, 2010, as 'RTT' Applicants Need Creative Writing, Too
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