Behind the Headline: Arne Duncan’s Wrong Turn on Reform: How Federal Dollars Fueled the Testing Backlash

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Arne Duncan’s Wrong Turn on Reform: How Federal Dollars Fueled the Testing Backlash
7/22/15 | The 74

Behind the Headline
What Did Race to the Top Accomplish?
Fall 2015 | Education Next

In an article for The 74, the new reform-oriented education news website launched by Campbell Brown, Matt Barnum looks at the impact of the Obama administration’s decision, in 2009, to push states applying for Race to the Top funds to evaluate all teachers based in part on student test scores.  Barnum writes

It started in 2009 with the realization that cash-strapped states were desperate for money in the midst of a struggling economy. Knowing this, Duncan designed Race to the Top, an ingenious program that gave states the chance to dip into a $4.35 billion pot of federal money if they adopted certain accountability and school choice policies. One of those policies was the evaluation of all teachers based partly on student growth on tests. And the administration meant all teachers, explaining that for educators in non-tested grades and subjects — think social studies and first grade — “alternative measures of student learning and performance” needed to be used.

Barnum argues that this and other decisions made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan “helped lead to a politically disastrous opt-out movement, a radicalization of teachers’ unions, and ultimately a loss of political support for federal education policy.”

In a new Education Next forum on Race to the Top, Rick Hess and Joanne Weiss debate the impact of the Obama administration’s signature education initiative.

In “Innovative Program Spurred Meaningful Education Reform,” Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and director of the federal Race to the Top program, argues that the initiative spurred comprehensive improvements nationwide and in numerous policy areas.

In “Lofty Promises But Little Change for America’s Schools,” Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that policymakers should be wary of top-down efforts to spur innovation.

– Education Next

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