Blog: The Educated Reporter

“We only reward success.”

In the State of the Union last night, President Obama said about Race to the Top, “We only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform—reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans…”

We only reward success.

The Race to the Top scoring rubric rewards the adoption, future or past, of specific approaches. They include considering “student growth” in teacher evaluation, which in turn should be considered in decisions such as pay or tenure; adopting common standards; using student data to improve instruction; welcoming charters; and turning around low-scoring schools.

This is an arbitrary assortment of reforms. That is the administration’s right. While I like some of them (and am wary of others’ ability to truly improve education), I don’t like that they are passed off as proven strategies—or, as Obama said last night, “reform that raises student achievement.” While most agree the current teacher evaluation system is a joke, for example, there is little if any evidence that tying pay to test scores improves teaching and learning. Same with common standards. Charters schools—some are great, some suck; the research is all over the place.

As the National Academies of Sciences noted, the bulk of the research in these areas is yet to come. I am uneasy about defining “success” this way. How about telling the nation instead that these are ideas you are excited about, and have great hope for?