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Race to the Top Hits Speed Bump

As the saying goes, those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. But in the education bureaucracy, those who can’t teach, teach teaching.  And those who can’t teach teaching, evaluate.

The New York Times informs us of the struggles, bordering on the absurd, that Tennessee is experiencing as it attempts to conform to the diktats of the federal government’s Race to the Top competition. Tennessee is just one of many states forced to increase the number of classroom observations of public school teachers.

What do these observations entail? Teachers are evaluated based on one or two of four areas: instruction, professionalism, classroom environment, and planning. The Times gives a taste of the criteria:

Instruction, for example, has 12 subcategories, including ‘motivating students’ and ‘presenting instructional content.’ Motivating students, in turn, has subcategories like ‘regularly reinforces and rewards effort.’ In all, there are 116 subcategories.

As if 116 subcategories weren’t enough, the evaluation process also includes a “pre-conference” (in which teachers explain the upcoming lesson), a “post-conference” (in which evaluators offer ideas for improvement), and up to six hours of inputting data.

Regular readers of Via Meadia will know that we’re certainly no cheerleaders for teachers’ unions. They have a point in their objections to this madness, however. Most state evaluation systems are needlessly complicated, time-consuming, and startlingly ineffective as it is. Measures aimed at increasing their significance are misguided.

The unions’ stock answer for all problems, life tenure for incompetents at ever higher pay, isn’t the answer either. Giving parents more power to pick schools is the better option.

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  • WigWag

    “Giving parents more power to pick schools is the better option.” (Walter Russell Mead and Team)

    Nope, more often than not, parents are part of the problem not part of the solution.

    Perhaps Professor Mead should re-read Charles Murray’s new book. Where parents are upper middle class and take an active interest in providing a structured, loving and education-intensive home life kids thrive in school no matter what type of schools they are.

    In Brookline, Massachusetts, Scarsdale, New York, Greenwich, Connecticut or Beverly Hills, California it doesn’t matter whether teachers are unionized or not; it doesn’t matter whether supervisors regularly observe teachers, it doesn’t matter whether the physical plants of public schools are ancient or modern and it doesn’t matter what curriculum or textbooks the schools use; kids thrive no matter what.

    The same thing is true in white, working class neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter if teachers are unionized, it doesn’t matter if the physical plants of schools are modern or decrepit, it doesn’t matter whether teachers are observed by supervisors and it doesn’t matter what curriculum or text books are used; nothing works. The parents are usually the problem not the solution. Giving parents the ability to choose their children’s school is as apt to make things worse as it is to make things better.

    Bad parents make bad students regardless of what the public education system does.

    If you don’t believe it; read Charles Murray.

  • Anthony

    “This economic system cannot do without the ultimo ratio of the complete destruction of those existences which are irretrievably associated with the hopelessly unadapted” (Joseph Schumpeter).

    Transpose the above quote to education bureaucracy critiqued in WRM’s Quick Take…

  • Toni

    Ahem. The “federal government’s Race to the Top” is Obama’s baby. Shall we classify this attempt at social engineering as incompetent or outright inept?

    Texas knew better. It implemented school testing and teacher accountability long ago; they were the basis for Pres. Bush’s No Child Left Behind. Texas also knows better than to yield control to Washington leftists. From a National Review article on Texas’s economic success, in this case its reaction to part of Obama’s $832 billion stimulus:

    “Saying no at just the right time sometimes means turning down “free” money from
    Washington. Texas left $556 million on the table when the federal government offered it to help modernize Texas’s unemployment trust fund, because the deal would have forced state taxpayers to pour additional revenue into the system after Uncle Sam’s bequest was tapped out. “Thanks, but no thanks,” Newton says. “We know who is going to have to replenish those funds. That was an attempt to bribe us – to bribe us with our own money.””

  • Toni

    “Social engineering” was the wrong term. Perhaps “teacher’s union override” is better. But like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, Race to the Top tries to micromanage, which makes it both a nightmare to try to implement and less effective than a simpler version would probably have been.

    I’m adding ineffective to incompetent and inept as descriptors of Obama’s job performance. Or are those redundant?

  • Kris

    The teachers’ unions object? How dare they?! Aren’t they in favor of education? Are they casting doubt on the good intentions and professionalism of their evaluator colleagues? Don’t they realize their complaints are playing into the hands of the Koch-funded libertarians who want to eliminate public education and return our children to a Dickensian dystopia?


  • lhf

    As reported in the Washington Post, a northern Virginia parent after spending a considerable amount of time volunteering on various school committees, got appointed to one on evaluating teachers. His suggestion was to have the first grade teacher(s) evaluate kindergarten, 2nd grade, 1st grade and on up based on whether or not the upcoming class had been prepared to do the next grade’s work. This seemingly sensible suggestion was opposed by teachers, mainly.

    I thought it was worth a look.

  • EvilBuzzard

    Race To The Top was an awesome success! People who have no desire to endure either the wages or the stress of a High School Math Teacher gig now get paid 3 to 4 times as much for 1/2 the work. That’s like killing it, dude!

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