Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NY Times: Educators Are Opposed to Obama’s School Plan

This is a June story from the NY Times:
When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced last week that California was submitting a new bid for hundreds of millions of dollars in financing under President Obama’s education initiative, Race to the Top, he could not resist a Hollywood joke.

The school superintendents who prepared the bid deserved an Oscar “for the great performance in putting this together,” he said, thanking several by name, including Carlos A. Garcia, the San Francisco superintendent.

“It’s supported just about by everybody,” Mr. Schwarzenegger added.

That, too, was meant to be a joke.

Over the past few months, educators, the teachers unions and lawmakers have clashed so bitterly regarding the changes tied to Race to the Top that state officials privately say the weakened bid stands at best a 50-50 chance of gaining approval — and a sorely needed $700 million — from Washington.

The Bay Area has been at the center of this fight. Mr. Garcia had to be prodded into joining the bid by Ramon C. Cortines, the Los Angeles schools superintendent, and even now he continues to openly criticize a federal program that he hopes will send $20 million to the San Francisco Unified School District, which is facing a $113 million deficit.

Mr. Garcia has said he objects to both the stringent standards and to Mr. Obama’s execution of Race to the Top, which aims to overhaul the nation’s public schools by awarding money based on several conditions, including tying teacher salaries to student performance, abolishing teacher tenure and expanding charter schools. Many of the programs’ critics, including Mr. Garcia, say it is a strong-armed approach similar to the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy.

“We’re tired of all that stuff,” Mr. Garcia said. “Even if we get the money, I’m not sure if we can implement all of that.”

Mr. Garcia’s dilemma — he disagrees with the policy, but badly needs the money — is shared by many other strapped superintendents. But his perspective is unique to the Bay Area, where growing discontent among progressives over Mr. Obama’s brand of liberalism is reflected in resistance to his administration’s education policy, which has been forcefully articulated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Read the full story


  1. So here is the list of things Mr. Garcia opposes:
    - tying teacher salaries to student performance
    - abolishing teacher tenure
    - expanding charter schools

    So basically he doesn't want accountability and competition. He just wants the money.

  2. ^Charter schools (especially state-chartered schools) are accountable how, exactly? Some are quite good, but a signficant % are the worst of the worst. I know their charters come up for renewal periodically, but in reality they have little oversight from year to year and also keep getting re-approved, despite obvious problems.

    Serious question. How do charters per se improve accountability?

  3. They don't, and it wasn't implied in the first post.
    Charter schools mean competition for public schools.

  4. Charter schools mean competition for public schools.

    Charter schools *are* public schools, paid for with public money. But they have less accountability than the traditional public schools. In some cases this works out fine. But it has created a situation in which a significant number of bad ones have been able to flourish.

    Re competition--this is supposed to incubate new ideas and also force the traditional schools to sit up and pay attention to new methods, right? But to the extent that charters are forced to "compete" on a level playing field with the traditional schools--low-income demographics, etc.--they don't do any better, according to even the pro-charter studies. If they do better, and even when they don't, they also have non-transferable advantages such as getting the kids whose parents are inherently motivated to sign up, and cherry-picking their students, and ability to kick kids out. They often have outside funding from the Broads, Gates, Waltons too. So what are we supposed to learn from this competition? And how are the traditional schools supposed to compete? Unless you give them these same tools....and then, how are we to educate the rest?

    Public schools don't need "competition" so much as adequate funding for a full curriculum--and wrap-around services especially in low-income schools. Public schools need a longer school year that includes time for enrichment; this would take money.

    Public schools also need good leadership and teaching, and this will mean offering incentives .... right now it is all stick and no carrot, which is driving out many of of our best teachers. The instability of annual layoffs would burn anyone out. Tying salaries to student performance is really, really, really hard to do in a statistically valid way. Abolishing tenure, which has long been the substitute for reasonable pay, just feels like attack with nothing given in return. Yeah, in DC Michelle Rhee has secured an agreement to raise salaries in return for that, but the program is only funded for five years. How sustainable is it really?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for looking at new ways to recruit and retain good teachers and getting rid of the awful ones. But there are ways to do this better. Trashing teachers and public servants is the easy road but very simplistic.

  5. The article goes on to suggest that the Superintendent's stated disapproval is perhaps not an entirely accurate summation of his views. SFUSD is building a new assessment system right now that could eventually be used in teacher evaluations, and is a participant in California's RTTT Round II application. RTTT scoring and funding is highly dependent on changes to tenure, teacher performance metrics, and approving charter school applications.

    However, despite recent press adulation to the contrary, there is no system that reliably and accurately ties student performance to teacher performance. The Washington Post recently did a big takedown of the teacher layoffs in DC, for instance.

    Also, parents of young children who support such systems should at least be advocating for assessments that are appropriate for developing children. Some districts are giving standardized tests to Kindergarten and 1st graders, and there is no disagreement that such tests are age-inappropriate.