Another right-on post by conservative think-tank guy Rick Hess. I hope he appreciates my occasional re-posts. I've included my comment at the end.

RTT for Districts: Taking the Hubris Meter to 11

RTT for Districts: Four Things I Don't Love

By Rick Hess on May 29, 2012 7:57 AM

Last week, I kvetched about the problems with RTT-District. I'll just say a bit more today. There are four things that particularly struck me about this $400 million exercise:

1. ED anticipates giving out 15 to 20 grants, with amounts tied to district size. Big districts, serving 10,000 kids or more, can get all of $20-$25 million. Smaller districts are eligible for less. In a small urban like Washington, DC, or Newark, we're talking about a total award equal to something like two to three percent of one year's outlays. In the nation's bigger districts, like Houston, Fairfax, Clark County, or Miami-Dade, award amounts will average about one percent or less of one year's spending. To put this in perspective, the total RTT dollars promised are less than one-tenth of one percent of annual K-12 spending. And yet, applicants are expected to make substantial new--and likely costly--commitments with regards to "personalized learning environments," teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, data systems, and standards and assessments.

2. So, what will districts need to do to receive these less-than-dazzling sums? ED is going to require that winning supplicants provide the necessary policies and systems to enable teachers to "truly differentiate instruction," and "continuously focus on improving individual student achievement." Teachers will also need to impart college- and career-readiness skills on their students in harmony with each student's "personal passions" and individual learning pace. O-kay then. Shoot, wish we'd thought of this before.

3. Despite our earnest Secretary of Education's jargon-laden, expansive rhetoric, the performance metrics reflect a pinched focus on the handful of things we know how to measure. Duncan said he's seeking "personalized learning environments" that focus on "competency-based education" in order to promote "school[s] that meets the unique needs of our children." Yet, ED specifies that performance will be demonstrated via six metrics: summative assessments, decreasing the achievement gaps, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, student attendance, and teacher attendance. These metrics are at odds with Duncan's handsome verbiage. There's no room for applicants to propose documenting performance in advanced science, world languages, the arts, history, student engagement, or much else. This limitation is a much bigger problem at the district than at the state level. State-level levers and measures are necessarily crude, since they're writing rules that must be applied across scores or even hundreds of districts to hundreds or thousands of schools. But those same strictures need not apply at the district level. It's unfortunate to see the feds telling purportedly "leading" districts to nonetheless lend an outsized, compliance-driven import to just these measures.

4. The U.S. Department of Education is now going to get into the business of telling local, elected bodies how to evaluate themselves. By 2014-15, districts will have to promise to implement evaluation systems that take student outcomes into account for school boards (along with every other breathing soul in a district). This is an especially novel innovation in democratic government--school boards are elected or appointed bodies who serve at the pleasure of their voters or an elected official. Perhaps the Department of Transportation will next start requiring city councils to be evaluated based on transit performance But the move is par for the course from a Department that has shown little disregard for pesky Constitutional constraints.

Now, if the exercise is so silly, you might think, "Surely, districts will steer clear. So there's no harm."

Not so fast. Winning this deal will be a hefty career boost for any superintendent and a great marketing device for CMOs. Superintendents will yearn to be able to note "RTT winner" on their resumes. Foundations, school board members, newspapers, mayors, and civic leaders will expect their distict to apply, and it'll be a source of embarrassment for many that don't.

So, no matter how distracting and misguided the exercise, no matter how much energy is wasted on grant-writing and meetings, and no matter how trivial the actual dollar amounts, we're going to see scores or hundreds of applicants spending hundreds of hours leaping through the requisite hoops. And nobody is likely to complain publicly, because there's no upside in ticking off ED or its allies.

9:30 AM on May 29, 2012

Yet another deja vu posting from Rick Hess!

The realities of reform are slowly but surely making their way to the surface of the cesspool of myths. Thanks to the persistence and dedication of real educators and a public that is fighting to keep the PUBLIC in our system of education. To have your voice so eloquently included is the icing on the cake!

Will the Louisiana's wholly unqualified but newly-annointed young TFA grad State Superintendent John White apply for this latest tool to wrest control of education so as to transfer it to deemed-more-capable hands of corporate privatizers?

Probably not because it would seem to fly in the face of STANDARDIZATION - another broken tool that has been used to promulgate the culture of failure that has been used to successfully to convince the public that the only way to FIX public education is to ERADICATE it.

Then again - his modus operandi seems to be to use a vocabulary whose definition defies recognition in practice/application. Then again, the measurement criteria and the holy grail of testing may prevail and our Governor may see this as another opportunity to insert his aspirations for royalty just in the winning of a grant.

Yeah - shoot wish we HAD thought of this before!

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