Schools Race To The Top

The Obama Administration's “Race to the Top” fund will allocate $4 billion for statewide education reform grants and $350 million to help states work together to improve education. Education Week writer Dakarai Aarons discuses the initiative. American Federation of Teachers Vice President Andy Ford offers a teacher’s perspective. And Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Deborah Gist explains how her school system secured one of the coveted grants.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

TONY COX, Host:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, many Gulf Coast residents have returned to their old neighborhoods in the five years since Katrina. But a number of reports suggest that in New Orleans, programs aren't adequately supporting African-Americans who also want to come home. More on that in a moment.

But first, we continue now with our conversation about the Obama administration's Race to the Top education program. Forty-six states applied for this two-round competition, which offered over $4 billion in grants for school reform. We are in phase two of the competition now, where nine states and the District of Columbia are winners.

Education Week writer Dakarai Aarons joins us in our Washington, D.C., studios. We are also joined by Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, and American Federation of Teachers Vice President Andy Ford.

Before the break - we want to talk about this teacher added - evaluation. Dakarai, it's been very controversial, particularly in California with the publication of the names of these school teachers. Is it as controversial elsewhere in the country?

AARONS: Absolutely. The Los Angeles Times recently published a list of the - what we would call the value-added scores of teachers. And what that means, rather than looking at the proficiency or how well students do each year, we're looking at the growth of students over time.

And there's a lot of debate in the education policy community among researchers about the value of this information, and whether it really tells us what we need to know about student performance, and whether we can really measure individual teachers based on it.

COX: Andy, I want to ask you about it. But by way of full disclosure, let me say now that my own daughter is a school teacher in the L.A. Unified School District, who was one of those people whose effectiveness was rated and published. She did well, so I was happy for that. But yet, it is something that people in California and elsewhere are talking about. As a union, Andy, where do you stand on this?

FORD: Well, I think we're taking part of the decision-making process about teacher evaluations, and we're publishing only part of the answer. It's not an overall comparison, and then you even have the people who have developed some of these formulas questioning whether the data could be actually used for the purpose that we're trying to use it for.

I think a better approach would be to actually develop an evaluation instrument that you knew was effective and that was research-based, and that the results were reliable. Because everything I've seen about what took place in Los Angeles, there's questions on whether the data was actually even reliable.

COX: Commissioner Gist, two points are raised here in terms of what we are talking about. One is the efficacy of the evaluation itself, whether it is complete or not complete. And secondly, whether or not that information should be made public, and who is entitled to know what that information is. What's your view on it, and how does your school system operate with regard to this?

GIST: Well, first of all, in order to use a value-added model, you have to have good data, and you have to have a strong model. And so we actually are exploring right now whether or not, and if so, how we will use that kind of information, whether it's value-added or what's called a growth model - or some sort of way for us to be able to take a look at information that we have around student performance on our standardized test scores.

But what I think is really important is that this is just one piece of information. And it is, you know, it is one piece of information that should be a part of an evaluation that is comprehensive. And what we're doing in our state right now is developing an overall system that is primarily intended to help our educators grow and develop as professionals. That's the purpose of it.

And we have over a hundred educators. They've been working all summer long on our evaluation system. And we're working very, very closely with our teachers and our teachers union, with the Rhode Island - our affiliate of the AFT, in particular - have been deeply, deeply involved in this work.

COX: My final question is this - and a brief answer from all three of you will be very much appreciated. Is it your sense that we are moving into a new era in which teachers can and should expect to be evaluated, and to have that evaluation made public in one form or another? Dakarai, you first.

AARONS: I think that remains to be seen. But after the publication of this information by the L.A. Times, there certainly has been a lot of interest, I know, among other education reporters in the country in finding out this type of information. And I know that many researchers have wanted access to this kind of information, to really study whether teachers are effective.

COX: Commissioner Gist.

GIST: Well, I, you know, that's a two-part question. I would say that with evaluation, absolutely, because our educators deserve to have good information that helps them to grow and develop as professionals. In terms of making that information public, I think that's a much more complicated question and, you know, I think it has to be handled very, very carefully.

And you know, I'm not comfortable with sort of this broad, you know, let's just publish this test score data. But we do need to make sure that families have information about the quality of their schools.

COX: Andy Ford, the last word to you.

FORD: I think everybody needs to be concerned about making sure that the teacher that's in the classroom is as effective as you can find. But the overuse and reliance on test scores has some negative consequences that I hope everybody would pay attention to. It does cause you to narrow the curriculum and to teach to the test. A full, comprehensive evaluation that involved multiple measures, I think, would be a better service to the public.

COX: Dakarai Aarons is a writer for Education Week. He joined us here in our Washington studios. We also heard from Andy Ford. He is the vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and the president of the Florida Education Association. He joined us from member station WFSU in Tallahassee. We also spoke with Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner. She was with us from member station WRNI in Providence, Rhode Island. The three of you, thank you very much.

GIST: Thank you, Tony.

FORD: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.