Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Funding Opinion

RTT for Districts: Four Things I Don’t Love

By Rick Hess — May 29, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Last week, I kvetched about the problems with RTT-District. I’ll just say a bit more today. There are four things that particularly struck me about this $400 million exercise:

1. ED anticipates giving out 15 to 20 grants, with amounts tied to district size. Big districts, serving 10,000 kids or more, can get all of $20-$25 million. Smaller districts are eligible for less. In a small urban like Washington, DC, or Newark, we’re talking about a total award equal to something like two to three percent of one year’s outlays. In the nation’s bigger districts, like Houston, Fairfax, Clark County, or Miami-Dade, award amounts will average about one percent or less of one year’s spending. To put this in perspective, the total RTT dollars promised are less than one-tenth of one percent of annual K-12 spending. And yet, applicants are expected to make substantial new--and likely costly--commitments with regards to “personalized learning environments,” teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, data systems, and standards and assessments.

2. So, what will districts need to do to receive these less-than-dazzling sums? ED is going to require that winning supplicants provide the necessary policies and systems to enable teachers to “truly differentiate instruction,” and “continuously focus on improving individual student achievement.” Teachers will also need to impart college- and career-readiness skills on their students in harmony with each student’s “personal passions” and individual learning pace. O-kay then. Shoot, wish we’d thought of this before.

3. Despite our earnest Secretary of Education’s jargon-laden, expansive rhetoric, the performance metrics reflect a pinched focus on the handful of things we know how to measure. Duncan said he’s seeking “personalized learning environments” that focus on “competency-based education” in order to promote “school[s] that meets the unique needs of our children.” Yet, ED specifies that performance will be demonstrated via six metrics: summative assessments, decreasing the achievement gaps, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student attendance, and teacher attendance. These metrics are at odds with Duncan’s handsome verbiage. There’s no room for applicants to propose documenting performance in advanced science, world languages, the arts, history, student engagement, or much else. This limitation is a much bigger problem at the district than at the state level. State-level levers and measures are necessarily crude, since they’re writing rules that must be applied across scores or even hundreds of districts to hundreds or thousands of schools. But those same strictures need not apply at the district level. It’s unfortunate to see the feds telling purportedly “leading” districts to nonetheless lend an outsized, compliance-driven import to just these measures.

4. The U.S. Department of Education is now going to get into the business of telling local, elected bodies how to evaluate themselves. By 2014-15, districts will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account for school boards (along with every other breathing soul in a district). This is an especially novel innovation in democratic government--school boards are elected or appointed bodies who serve at the pleasure of their voters or an elected official. Perhaps the Department of Transportation will next start requiring city councils to be evaluated based on transit performance But the move is par for the course from a Department that has shown little disregard for pesky Constitutional constraints.

Now, if the exercise is so silly, you might think, “Surely, districts will steer clear. So there’s no harm.”

Not so fast. Winning this deal will be a hefty career boost for any superintendent and a great marketing device for CMOs. Superintendents will yearn to be able to note “RTT winner” on their resumes. Foundations, school board members, newspapers, mayors, and civic leaders will expect their distict to apply, and it’ll be a source of embarrassment for many that don’t.

So, no matter how distracting and misguided the exercise, no matter how much energy is wasted on grant-writing and meetings, and no matter how trivial the actual dollar amounts, we’re going to see scores or hundreds of applicants spending hundreds of hours leaping through the requisite hoops. And nobody is likely to complain publicly, because there’s no upside in ticking off ED or its allies.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Interactive Look Up How Much COVID Relief Aid Your School District is Getting
The federal government gave schools more than $190 billion to help them recover from the pandemic. But the money was not distributed evenly.
2 min read
Education Funding Explainer Everything You Need to Know About Schools and COVID Relief Funds
How much did your district get in pandemic emergency aid? When must the money be spent? Is there more on the way? EdWeek has the answers.
11 min read
090221 Stimulus Masks AP BS
Dezirae Espinoza wears a face mask while holding a tube of cleaning wipes as she waits to enter Garden Place Elementary School in Denver for the first day of in-class learning since the start of the pandemic.
David Zalubowski/AP
Education Funding Why Dems' $82 Billion Proposal for School Buildings Still Isn't Enough
Two new reports highlight the severe disrepair the nation's school infrastructure is in and the crushing district debt the lack of federal and state investment has caused.
4 min read
Founded 55 years ago, Foust Elementary received its latest update 12-25 years ago for their HVAC units. If the school receives funds from the Guilford County Schools bond allocation, they will expand classrooms from the back of the building.
Community members in Guilford, N.C. last week protested the lack of new funding to improve the district's crumbling school facilities.
Abby Gibbs/News & Record via AP
Education Funding Can Governors Really Take Money From Schools Over Masks?
State leaders are using the threat of funding cuts as a weapon in the mask debate—but it's not clear if they can or will follow through.
7 min read
Conceptual image of hundred dollar bills with some of the images of Benjamin Franklin masked.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock