We read and hear news about our country’s Race To The Top in education, particularly, teacher evaluation and Common Core State Standards. What, however, is the Race To The Top? What does it mean for our schools and our students? Key components of the Race To The Top are Standards, Data, and Teacher Evaluation. Let’s explore each of them.
We have standards for our students – the things we want our students to know, do, and be like. The newest version of our standards is called the Common Core Learning Standards. The standards English Language Arts and Literacy call for our students to do more reading and writing of nonfiction, informational texts. We will shift away from textbooks to more authentic pieces of reading and writing that represent what really occurs in the many fields and disciplines in which our students will eventually find employment and interest. In mathematics, the focus will be on helping our students become mathematically fluent. We will focus on priority math concepts in order to allow for greater depth and real-life application.
Coming soon are the Next Generation Science standards. These goals for science education will include engineering, math, technology, and problem solving to a degree not seen in the past, thus better preparing our students for the 21st Century.
In the last couple of decades, the data that we have been paying the most attention to have been summative data – that is, data that comes after the end of the school year. Test scores and international comparisons are based on summative, end of learning tests. While these data are helpful for accountability purposes such as providing the ranking of schools and identification of higher and lower performing schools, they do little to actually impact the classroom. In the Race To The Top, the focus of our data use will change. We will begin to use data more formatively – which is to say, using what we know about what our students in our classrooms today in order to make better decisions tomorrow. We’ll still have data from state tests for list-making and other accountability applications, but our focus will shift to data that can actually impact what goes on in the classroom.
Lately, this is the part of the Race To The Top that has been attracting the most attention. We’ve been reading about the progress that districts have been making on their evaluation plans. Even the Governor and legislature have been involved. While there are many details in the legislation and regulation for teacher evaluation, it can be oversimplified into this equation: 20% student growth + 20% student achievement + 60% observation of teachers work = 100% of an annual evaluation score that all teachers will receive. Although the 20% + 20% + 60% = 100% formula seems simple, there are actually a great many details that must be negotiated between labor and management. Add to that the fact that the rules for the evaluation system have just been finalized and it is easy to understand why districts’ progress has been careful and deliberate.
Each part of Race To The Top, taken individually, describes a departure from the way things have been. Considered together, the requirements and expectations of Race To The Top represent a significant change in public education. If we can complete the “race,” together, the prize awarded at the end will be the student-centered, 21st Century-oriented system of public education that our children deserve and that our future demands.