Top 7 RTTT Myths
Many education professionals, such as former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, have criticized the Race to the Top grant program (RTTT) for its emphasis on student testing and anti-teacher biases. So then, why has OEA’s leadership chosen to support Ohio’s RTTT application and left the decision about school district participation to each local association? The answer is straightforward: Ohio’s RTTT application is designed to help implement key provisions of the state’s education legislation, House Bill 1 (HB1), that address the same goal areas as RTTT.
Unfortunately, some of the facts about Ohio’s approach to RTTT have been lost in the midst of what are understandably emotionally charged issues. As such, some of the concerns and beliefs about what ODE would do with the federal money are simply unfounded. Let’s take seven of the more commonly expressed myths.
1. RTTT demands that states evaluate teachers by their students' test scores.
Ohio’s application requires some evidence of student growth, but does not make student achievement or growth a conclusive or majority factor in evaluation and employment decisions. RTTT requires a new evaluation system be implemented, but the Ohio Educator Standards Board with a majority of teachers has already been assigned by HB1 to design model teacher and principal evaluation systems and recommend appropriate use of student growth in those evaluations. The good news is that in Ohio’s RTTT application the actual design of evaluation systems will be done at the local level to meet the district’s needs, which can be funded with district RTTT money. Ohio’s RTTT application, unlike that of many other states, does not require that student test scores be the major criteria for evaluation and employment decisions. Equally important, Ohio’s approach protects collective bargaining.
2. The money that states win cannot plug budget gaps, but must be applied to meeting the requirements of RTTT.
Ohio’s educators can use RTTT money to implement key HB1 elements in order to deliver positive results for teachers and students. OEA agrees that RTTT cannot plug state and local budget gaps; however, Ohio’s application directs needed RTTT money to implementation of House Bill 1 by funding professional development for new academic content standards, implementing the resident educator program, creating teacher leadership opportunities, and designing evaluation systems that yield information teachers can use to perfect their practice.
3. The NCLB-induced obsession with testing and test-prep activities will intensify under RTTT resulting in more teaching to bad tests, more narrowing of the curriculum, more cheating, more gaming the system, and even less time for the arts, history, geography, civics, foreign languages, literature, and other important subjects.
OEA’s policies address the inappropriate uses of student test scores. Ohio’s RTTT approach is to develop data and instructional systems for both accountability and diagnostic-improvement purposes, which are consistent with OEA’s policies. The focus of the data and instructional systems to be supported by RTTT funds is to make information on student growth more useful to teachers and principals as they strive for improved practice and results. Ohio’s approach to the use of student data would modify the existing testing systems to align with new academic content standards in accordance with HB1. This approach would create performance assessments, expand value-added data systems consistent with the Battelle for Kids model, and develop student growth measures (other than value-added systems) in untested subjects and grades – all to strengthen diagnostic-improvement and accountability uses of data.
4. RTTT requires states to increase the number of privately managed schools.
OEA agrees that privately managed schools are not the magical solution to persistently underachieving schools. The focus of Ohio’s RTTT application is to implement HB1, which includes heightened, enforceable regulatory criteria for community schools. OEA can support Ohio’s application, given that the positives associated with implementing key elements of HB1 in districts served by OEA locals outweigh the risks of RTTT improbably causing the emergence of additional community schools. HB1 clarifies the state’s authority to monitor community school sponsors, requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to report on the performance of community school sponsors, prohibits new start-up charter school contracts with operators that manage others in Ohio, unless performance data indicate satisfactory performance, and requires performance criteria that trigger automatic closure under specific conditions. Ohio’s RTTT application will prompt participating community schools to upgrade key practices, which should benefit students in these schools.
5. RTTT promotes the de-professionalization of education by encouraging alternate paths into teaching and leadership.
The section in Ohio’s application pertaining to alternative preparation describes Ohio’s current alternative licensure structure, which was slightly modified by recent STEM legislation and HB1 and which addresses quality controls. HB1 instituted legal, statutory, and regulatory provisions that expand alternative licensure pathways, as long as they meet rigorous standards. HB1 now requires an Intensive Pedagogical Training Institute for individuals seeking alterative licensure. The result is a more parallel structure to college preparation. Individuals who hold alternative licenses must also successfully complete a 4-year residency program, including comprehensive evaluations that inform decisions about retention, dismissal, and advancement to five- year professional licenses. Ohio’s RTTT application does little, if anything, to change alternative licensure in Ohio, except to enhance quality preparation.
6. Many public schools, primarily in poor and minority communities, will be closed down to comply with the demands of Race to the Top—schools that enroll large numbers of low-performing students -- even if their staff is doing a good job in the face of difficult challenges.
Closing a public school will be a rare occurrence, although it is one option that must be considered by a district having nine or more schools among the state’s lowest five percent of persistently underachieving schools. OEA can support Ohio’s application, given that the positives associated with implementing key elements of HB1 in districts served by OEA locals outweigh the extent to which RTTT might force the closure of a school or default to the other undesirable change models. For turning around persistently underperforming schools during 2010-2011, only the Cleveland Municipal School District will be forced to consider options other than the transformation model, which is the RTTT-allowed model OEA clearly prefers. While any school district with more than nine schools among the lowest five percent during the next four years would be expected to consider school closure, few – if any – OEA affiliates will be affected.
7. RTTT erodes state and local control of public education by prompting legislatures to supersede local school boards on any issues selected by federal bureaucrats.
OEA holds a similar concern about federal intrusion into state and local matters; however, the opportunity to bring $400 million to Ohio to implement HB1 in districts where teachers can influence local policy and practice by negotiating implementation of key HB1 provisions outweighed the risks. This has not been the experience of other states that lacked a similar foundation and which resorted to hurry-up legislation to meet RTTT requirements. Ohio’s General Assembly did not respond in a knee-jerk manner to RTTT. They did not try to divert ODE and school districts from HB1 provisions that align with OEA policies toward federal RTTT “suggestions” that would not. OEA will continue working with NEA, state affiliates, and other state and national education stakeholders, to advance a positive federal role in education, eliminate competitive federal grants, and restrict federal intrusion into state and local matters.