Comments on Race To The Top were due on Friday, and the National Education Association submitted theirs last week. (Link to the complete document through Sherman Dorn’s website or have fun going looking through all of them here.) Here’s Dorn’s comment:
Let me be clear on my perspective as an NEA member and as an observer of political processes: There are lots of reasonable individual passages within the document, but you don’t submit a manifesto when you comment on regs as an organization. You don’t submit a manifesto that covers up any potential for effectiveness with what amounts to political poison. And you don’t submit a manifesto that undermines your credibility.
True, but NEA is doing just what they’re supposed to be doing: protecting teachers’ rights. Can we stop being surprised by that? There might be a little more bite to the manifesto because NEA clearly feels betrayed by the Obama Administration’s insistence (if you want the stimulus money, that is — states are free to decline it) on lifting caps on charter schools and linking student achievement to teacher effectiveness. Then there’s the Diane Ravitch-inspired argument that the whole thing stinks of occlusion of states’ rights, which NEA borrows from happily. Here’s the betrayal:
The details of the RTTT proposal do not seem to square with the Administration’s earlier philosophy. The Administration’s theory of success now seems to be tight on the goals and tight on the means, with prescriptions that are not well-grounded in knowledge from practice and are unlikely to meet the goals. We find this top-down approach disturbing; we have been down that road before with the failures of No Child Left Behind, and we cannot support yet another layer of federal mandates that have little or no research base of success and that usurp state and local government’s responsibilities for public education.
One of the NEA’s main objections is, of course, RTTT’s emphasis on linking student test data to teacher performance. Ironically, NEA is now put in the position of defending the much-loathed NCLB legislation, which has limited teacher evaluation to a category called “Highly Qualified.” A teacher reaches that level by passing a state test and completing a college degree. It’s high qualification, not high performance, a metric based on eligibility, not effectiveness. RTTT goes further. It’s not just where a teacher passes a state test and has a bachelor’s degree; it’s whether student formative assessments indicate teacher proficiency. That’s one of NEA’s beefs, and they duly footnote their prospectus with studies that show that teacher proficiency increases with seniority. (For the counterview, see Jane Hannaway’s work at the Urban Institute; she’s long made the argument that teaching proficiency levels out after about 5 years.)
It makes perfect sense that an NEA member would be embarrassed and offended by this “manifesto.” If nothing else, though, all the recent media attention to NYC’s Rubber Rooms clarifies the distinction between a lobbying group hell-bent on exorcising any measure that could potentially harm job security and the teachers themselves, who actually want to educate children.