Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ed-Jobs, Race To The Top Issues

Ed-Jobs Flexibility
One of the major concerns of superintendents and school boards about the use of the 10 billion dollar federal supplement designed to preserve education jobs, is the lack of repeat funding. Suppose a local school system uses the extra funding to hire additional teachers or to avoid layoffs, what will happen next school year when state funding possibly remains frozen, and costs continue to rise and the federal funing is not renewed? Will such school systems be forced to make even more drastic cuts to staff and education programs?
According to a recent story in Education Week, there may be a way to spread the impact of the supplement over a two year period to prevent both over staffing and more drastic layoffs. Apparently the US Dept. of Education will allow school systems to use the federal supplement over a two year period with the final deadline for use of the funds set at September, 2012. For example, if a school sytem estimated that their share of funding would allow the funding and therefore retention of 50 positions for one year, the decision may be to fund 25 positions over a two year period instead. This allows more time for tax revenues to improve or to plan better the ultimate cuts that may be necessary.
Race to the Top Problem:
Its ironic that the very centerpiece of Louisiana's Race to the Top application which was designed to portray the LA Deparment of Education as the most aggressive education reformer in the country probably resulted in failure to win the prize. According to a story in The Advocate, panel members ranking Louisiana's proposal cited a lack of detailed planning for Louisiana's new "value added" teacher and principal evaluation program as a major reason for point deductions in Louisiana's overall score. The judges felt there were not enough  specifics in the rating system as applied to school principals.
My most serious criticism of the new law is that it could wrongly penalize the educators who by their assignments to underperforming schools require the most support from their school systems. Even though the new evaluation law pushed by State Superintendent Pastorek states that certain other factors will be considered along with student scores in evaluating teachers and principals, I believe there is no way to implement the law fairly. That is because schools serving poverty areas are faced with other major impediments to student success than the actual performance of teachers and principals. Often these schools must deal with high student absenteeism, class disruption by uncooperative students, uncooperative or absent parents, drug and crime influences, lack of proper rest and safety of students etc. As I have stated before, such an over-emphasis on student test scores will result in other negative consequences such as teaching the test, or outright cheating. Some students may figure out that teachers can be coerced into easing up on class discipline by threatening to do poorly on the all important tests. (If you don't think kids are capable of this, think again!)
Now that there will be no federal funding for the new evaluation system, critical resources that could be used to address the school problems listed above will instead be used to develop this overly complex system and for extra staff to monitor and link evaluations to student performance.