New York was awarded Race to the Top funds! Rah rah! Right? Pause. A few things to consider:
1) The Money: The New York City Department of Education’s operating budget is $18.5 BILLION. A year. The $697 million from Race to the Top (RTTT) for all of New York is certainly a chunk of change, but cannot be used to seal holes in the budget and must be used for specific areas laid out in the application. (It’s not necessarily coming to your classrooms, effective teachers.) Instead it’s devoted to a few specific areas: a data portal, student achievement, standards for evaluating principals and teachers, and the creation of charter schools.
2) There will be a data portal! You heard me. Ideally, stakeholders will “access easily to view useful reports that may be customized as needed.” (p. 114 of the proposal) This sounds terrific. I would love information in a clear useable way that I can consult to teach my students better. I hate to rain on the parade, but there are two problems with this from where I stand.
a. One problem is the concept itself. We already have a portal in NYC – ARIS – which includes only grades, attendance and major test scores, as far as I can tell. Furthermore very few teachers use this portal, despite training sessions and encouragement. It is cumbersome and distant from our everyday classroom lives and the data reflects only a small portion of what we teach our students or need to know about them. Implementation of this new portal is crucial and it needs to be done well.
b. Two, logistics. Where are the computers to access the portal? (There are two in my 20-person department’s office.) Where is the time in a teacher’s schedule for this? It will take more time to coach teachers on the new system and to become comfortable using it. We need more equipment and a schedule that accommodates time for data collection and analysis. UFT, I hope you’re listening.
If we’re investing millions of dollars in the creation of this data portal, we better be prepared to invest in time to spend using it (which may mean more teachers are needed and teachers should teach fewer periods a day), more varied assessment tools that we can include in our data portal, and technology to facilitate its use.
3) Evaluation: According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) the RTTT grant application, phase 2, (which you can download and read here) for which the money must be used, “establishes a new teacher and principal evaluation system that makes student achievement data a substantial component of how educators are assessed and supported.” Student achievement data is what, exactly? The plan is not clear. Standardized test scores can be useful and we know that they’re a part of life, but student achievement is more than test scores – it’s a combination of multiple measures of skills and improvement over time. We have already heard about the new teacher an principal evaluation system, but haven’t seen the specific criteria yet. We know it will involve some value-added growth models, but what kind we have yet to see. Value-added growth model needs some explaining and certainly some pressure from effective teachers to determine the most useful models.
I’m truly hopeful that these reforms – the revised teacher and principal evaluations, the emphasis on student improvement, and the acknowledgment that our schools are not serving our students – will lead to real growth. To this end, I pledge to make myself as involved as I can in the rollout of the RTTT changes in my school and in my district. These reforms have the ability to create better schools and strengthen teaching, but they’re not guaranteed to do that without the right leadership and implementation.