An Opportunity Too Big To Miss

August 31st, 2009

Category: News

In a recent letter, the National Education Association (NEA) expressed concerns about major components of President Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition. The union thinks the size of the program will inhibit effectiveness, opposes basing teacher evaluations in part on student performance, opposes expanding alternative teacher certification programs and dislikes RTTT’s emphasis on charter schools.

While we understand their concerns about implementing such a large scale proposal, we believe the Obama administration is correct to use these funds to encourage innovation. RTTT is, after all, optional, and for the most part states get to choose what they want to try and how.  Our education system needs reforms that work and the administration is using RTTT to reward states for replacing practices that have not worked with ones that can better prepare students for college and the workforce.

We share concerns about fair teacher evaluations, yet excluding student achievement entirely is unacceptable. Schools drastically need fair evaluations — that monitor teacher performance over several years and emphasize growth — so teachers won’t get punished for having one difficult class, or teaching in a difficult environment.  But at the same time, we need a system that ensures the most effective teachers are in every classroom, and right now we do not have an evaluation system that can do that.

On charter expansion, the Obama administration wants to reward good schools – traditional public schools and charters alike — and see underperforming schools shut down. In some states high-performing charter systems cannot expand because of caps and lack of facilities financing. Secretary Duncan is right to encourage states to expand successful schools and hold others accountable.  We need to make sure that all families have access to high quality district and charter schools for their children.

Finally, alternative teacher certification programs like Teach For America, which places top college graduates in our nations high needs schools, and programs that train mid-career professionals to bring their experience into classrooms should be rewarded. Any significant change in our schools will be built by great teachers and principals, and we need to find better ways to recruit, train, and retain more of these educators.

Sarah Grunewald



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