Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blueprint for Reform and Race to the Top

President Obama introduces the Blueprint to Reform with a letter that recognizes that NCLB is “flawed” and in need of renovation. He makes several points that I really liked reading that seemed to improve on George W. Bush’s plan: for example, in the third paragraph he alludes to the need for an education system that contributes to democracy. In the fifth paragraph, the President advocates for teachers, saying that they deserve more freedom and respect in their profession. Both of these points make the President’s plan seem more user-friendly- in other words, placing a higher emphasis on respect for communities and teachers.

That being said, there were other aspects of the introduction letter that did not seem to be renovations at all, but rather, carry-overs of neoliberal ideas from NCLB. The concept of better education in order to increase our global economic standing , colorblindness, and business involvement are all mentioned. I was curious to begin reading and see how these ideas played out in the actual body of the document.

There is not enough space here to dissect every section in detail, but to summarize, its four targets are: 1) college and career preparation; 2) great teachers/leaders; 3) equal opportunities; 4) raising standards and rewarding excellence; and 5) continuing improvement. Overall, the Blueprint for Reform is based more on reward than on punishment, as NCLB was. The word “grant” and “grantee” are repeated time and again to emphasize these rewards. This sounds positive on the surface, but may end up being another method of control from a distance because in order to get funds, schools will have to conform to what a higher “power” wants of them. I also found myself wondering where the grant money comes from; if private businesses are the answer, then we have yet another reform involving privatization.

Race to the Top is a plan mentioned in the Blueprint that enables the government to distribute ~$4 billion dollars to schools in “states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform” (DoEd website). Again, reward is the main theme here. Based on what we’ve learned thus far, the idea of competition between schools might be problematic because it defeats the purpose of public education, or the “we’re all in this together, guys” mentality. Schools should not be pit against each other, especially when some begin ten feet in front of the starting line while others start ten feet behind it. Social context does not seem to be taken into consideration, thus benefitting the schools that are already achieving.

My feelings on the Blueprint and RTTT are so mixed because I see some aspects that I disagree with, while others that I don’t. After working at the Department of Education for a summer, I know that many employees there really want what’s best for children and are not crazy “rah-rah capitalism” neoliberals. The ones that I worked with believe in the Blueprint’s reforms and its potential for change. However, after taking an outside-of-Washington perspective, it does seem as though Obama’s plans are not the total departure from NCLB that I once thought they were.


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  2. Like Grace, I have mixed feelings about Obama’s attempts at education reform after this week’s readings. A particularly important aspect of both Race to the Top and A Blueprint for Reform is their focus on having “a great teacher in every classroom,” in order to guarantee that students are receiving the high level of education that every child deserves (A Blueprint for Reform, 1). On the surface, the idea that governments are going to hold schools accountable for having high-quality teachers seems wholly positive and progressive; however, after reading Race to the Top’s definition of an “effective teacher,” I question whether or not holding schools accountable for “effective teachers” is actually a good way to enact change and improve the education system (Race to the Top, 12). RTTT defines an “effective teacher” as one whose “students achieve acceptable rates (e.g. at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth” (12).

    Given our past readings and class discussions, I continue to question whether or not it is fair or even productive to base teachers’ assessments on student achievement. Instead of lauding teachers for caring deeply about their students’ intellectual development and doing so in creative, meaningful ways, the government forces students to view students as “products” who must be adequately prepared to pass tests. This reality inevitably results in deskilling the profession of teaching and pressures teachers to focus solely on testing and material that will be on tests. Further, the definition of an effective teacher does not take into account what kind of school the teacher is working at. The definition inherently denies that the social/community context of a school makes any difference in whether or not a teacher can successfully prepare students, and as we have discussed, context does in fact matter. Given all of this, I can’t help but view parts of Obama’s reforms as nothing but a continuation of the problems created by NCLB.

  3. I also find it challenging to negotiate the discourse of President Obama’s education policies and his Race to the Top Fund with what American public schools really need for improvement. What I find to be interesting is the continued use of the words “testing” and “competition” that Bush advocated for, while at the same time criticizing his clearly ineffective NCLB policy. I think that it is evident that policy makers talk about improving education for the benefit of the country’s children and national and global situations, but it is often ignored that a system of high-stakes testing is not the answer. So even though Obama was elected with a promise of change, his education policies are essentially no different than his Republican predecessor. As Stan Karp quotes in “School Reform We Can’t Believe In,” Diane Ravitch says that Obama’s presidency is “‘Bush’s third term in education’” (1). Recently, Obama has enacted a law in which states can apply for waivers from NCLB’s standards by providing a new plan of achievement. Although this new flexibility would appear to be beneficial because NCLB has not improved our schools, Stan Karp recognizes in his article “NCLB waivers give bad policy new lease on life,” that in reality these waivers do not provide flexibility on standardized tests, which is where schools need more autonomy (1). Even though the political discourse under this administration seems to counter NCLB, the policies still ignore the social context that affects student learning in success, while continuing to implement high-stakes testing that will not help improve American public schools.

  4. While I have had some opinion on the way our educational system in America is being run, I cannot say that I have thoroughly spent time trying to understand the various programs that have existed to try and remedy the rapidly deteriorating system. Now, as this class progresses, I am beginning to really get an understanding of how these program work—and don’t work. In reading Karp’s “School Reform We Can’t Believe in,” the ties that Obama’s plan has to preserving so many of No Child Left Behind’s elements makes me wonder whether starting from scratch might be a more effective solution. However, seeing as though he was quoted saying: “Let’s build up what we’ve got” in regards to the current healthcare system, this restart could be unlikely to occur. I also was slightly put off by the way that Duncan took such a corporate approach to the issue of education when discussing closing the “bottom 1 perfect one the nation’s portfolio.” Sure, we have come to realize that education has numerous corporate and private aspects, but considering the kind of situation many of these schools are in, it seemed a little crass for him to refer to them as the bottom 1 percent…just my opinion.
    I also wanted to touch on Ally’s point about questioning whether or not it is fair to judge teachers based on their students’ achievements. I agree with her that when considering this notion, Race to the Top does in fact seem to perpetuate problems caused by NCLB. If we continue to undermine the profession of being an educator, we will lose so many of the teachers who actually possess the knowledge that we need to sustain the country’s public education system. While this is already unfortunately a reality in many situations, Obama’s plan surely can’t be helping.

  5. I also have mixed feeling about the Presidents attempt to reform education. When reading you want to believe some of this reform is actually possible. The language used in A Blue Print For Reform makes you want to believe in the program. For example, the President writes, “we must foster school environments where teachers have the time to collaborate, the opportunity to lead, and the respect that all professionals deserve” (A Blue Print For reform, 1). Can you imagine if we lived in a world like that? Wouldn’t that be sweet? I agree with Ally both readings for this week emphasize the key to a better education is having great teachers and principals. Holding the schools accountable may seem like a good idea for positive change however the ways in which we do this only creates new problems such as cheating.
    For Wednesdays class we were asked to read Atlanta Cheating Scandal: How The Teacher Incentives In High-Stakes Testing Situation Lead to Cheating Outbreak. This article explains the demand to meet certain standards in place due to high-stakes testing leads teachers and administrators to allow cheating. Despite the fact that these standards put into place are entirely unattainable the true issue is the teachers are forced to view students as “products”. The students become a number and teachers are beginning to take unethical measure for the standards to be met. This is only one issue of high-stakes testing but this will continue to be a problem if the Obama administration doesn’t change the standards put into place or the pressure on teachers and administrators.

  6. Grace mentioned that the new plan is one that involves rewards instead of punishments. This is an excellent point that almost exposes all the flaws in the current system. The proposed system of standardized testing, benchmarks, and accountability is the same but with a slight shift in discourse. Instead of focusing on failing schools, the emphasis is on the successful schools. It’s a tricky way of making the system sound more positive using positive language like ‘reward, recognize, and encourage excellence.’ I feel really frustrated because we are looking at the same problem wrapped up with the same unsubstantiated standards measured by the same unfair assessments.

    I will provide an example (of course not equivalent to the seriousness of education) to illustrate the skewed train of thought behind NCLB and Obama’s new plan. Say there are fifty kids who are in school learning how to play a game (bowling), some of the kids have lessons outside of bowling school, some students’ parents are pro-bowlers, and some have never even seen a bowling ball. In a NCLB framework, those in charge of teaching bowling punish the kids who aren’t winning as many games, or improving as quickly, or may have some reason preventing them from learning to bowl in a standard way. Now, Obama’s plan says okay, we are going to build off this current framework because it’s not fair. However, what he purposes is only a switch in discourse that focuses on rewarding successful kids who are winning lots of bowling tournaments instead of focusing on failing kids losing lots of tournaments. The rewards (grants in the case of ed policy) would be like new bowling shoes, balls, and facilities to help the winning kids win even more.

    Then the policy ends saying, well kids who are different from the bowling elite, don’t fear because you can win as many tournaments as these other kids if you join the bowling enthusiasts and model your lives after theirs. And don’t worry because you have just as fair of a chance as everyone else in bowling school.

  7. Grace, I noticed the same thing in Obama's Blueprint for Reform. The entire education policy is based on the neoliberalist design, and the concepts of competition and fear of missing out on a bright future permeate his letter. Moreover, his ideas for change sound unrealistic and are unsubstantiated. When he says, "Our goal must be to have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school. We know that from the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents—it is the teacher standing at the front of the classroom," I visibly cringed. My roommate asked me what happened, and I proceeded to explain to her that Obama's statements, while probably meaning to be inspirational, were blatantly false. Even the best teachers in the country cannot overcome the effects of racist institutions, poverty, or a student's home life. Great teachers are wonderful and necessary, but there are not a panacea.

    In addition, this need for "great teachers" is troublesome. What makes a great teacher? How are those teachers evaluated? If it's only test scores, and these teachers' salaries, bonuses, and jobs depend on the scores of their students, we have a serious problem. It incentivizes cheating, as we read in Atlanta. But major cities across the nation are having cheating scandals. There's obviously something amiss here.

    It sounds to me that there is an intent vs. impact dilemma here. Obama's may intend for a fair playing field, equal opportunity, and a "worldclass education" (whatever that means), but I worry most about the impact. Invalidating the students of color's experience, putting a greater burden on teachers, and feeding into the neoliberalist mentality are not reforms at all; just a continuation of the status quo.

  8. After reading the readings for tomorrow’s class, I walked over to Grace’s apartment because I was so surprised at how cynical I was upon reading the proposals for Race to the Top and the Blueprint to Reform. I was comforted to find out that Grace had the same experience…the more we learn, the more we doubt. One day in class, Professor Stern asked us what we would think of No Child Left Behind if we were a parent of a child who needed a reform in the educational system. We were able to come up with a solid list of positives for the policy at face value. Yet, because we are all educated on the actual outcomes and invisible punishments of the system, we can come up with a much larger list to rip it apart. I realized that as I read the blueprint for reforms, I was reading everything that it proposed and translating it into something bad. For example, the blueprint discusses rewarding successes instead of punishing failure. I saw this as a change in language that appears good but represents the exact same issues from NCLB. It wants to raise the bar and promote the race to the top. It wants to foster equality and allow for comparability. However, these are some of the things that NCLB showed caused failure. It is calling for more pressure on children, teachers, and schools and still reduces children to a comparable number. I wonder where the balance comes between being educated and extremely cynical when reading reforms and being uneducated (in regards to what these educational policies have been doing and what children really need) and having a positive outlook. Yes, cynicism is important, but having faith is important too. I find myself reading Karp and agreeing too much with him. He claims the new blueprint simply keeps the basic aspects of NCLB while promoting the worse aspects through RTTT. I am too quick to agree with him.

    In addition to being really cynical, I found that I really picked up on the language of the blueprint and RTTT. I can see now how easy it would be to support such a reform. Words such as success, excellence, and turnaround make you see promise not failure. After all, what could be worse than what is going on in the school systems today? It goes to show how easy it could be to manipulate people into believing something is good. Even just looking at the pictures that are on the blueprint shows how much effort is put into selecting the perfect words and the perfect images. Every picture on that blueprint is of almost all minority students. I have to believe that any family who are supposedly going to benefit the most from these reforms, such as family from minority race groups, would have some subconscious relation to the fact that all the pictures show children from minority races smiling, learning, and succeeding. This once again ties back to where you draw the line with your cynicism. Are these words promising because the ideas actually are promising? Or did someone really smart who knows how to get to people write exactly what we want to hear?

  9. After reading all the posts and the readings for this week it is clear that there is a need for a reform that for one protects the rights of the students and teachers and second that allows for equal education for all students. The main thing that I see with the educational policies in place now that all of my classmates have stated is that they are centralized on testing which for one doesn’t properly evaluate a student and second puts a strain on teachers to perform and not enlighten. President Obama realizes that these things are some of the major problems in our educational policies’ specifically No Chile left behind when he wrote the letter in the Blueprint for reform. He realizes that it is flawed and needs to be changed. However, if we are pushing for a more democratic policy how the shift cans go from product to process if our society is only focused on productivity. I am a firm believer in the relationships between the community and the classroom so I find it a little hard to put faith in a policy that will attempt to change the whole scheme of things. I mean I understand that it is a step by step process but I think that we are too focused on what an individual can do for society rather than the value of the individual.

  10. As Grace mentions, A Blueprint for Reform contains numerous carry-overs of neoliberal ideas from NCLB. One of the main carry-overs is this idea that education reform can be the driving force behind an increase in our global economic standing. That an increase in education can lead to innovation and job creation within our capitalist system. This idea of innovation within a competitive market place ties into another carry-over in A Blueprint for Reform from NCLB which is the ideology of colorblindness.

    A Blueprint for Reform fails to address the fact that even with these new educational reforms public schools in poor areas will still fail. Mainly because our education policies are based on the idea that "if you work hard you can achieve anything." We are constantly reminded of this when you turn on your television and we see yet another story about how "despite all odds" a group of poor black children won the national science fair competition (or something of that nature)and if those kids could do it anyone can.
    Social class is completely neglected and poor children are seen as "lazy" because they don't succeed in the classroom.

    A Blueprint for Reform's main flaw is that it neglects to address the social problems outside of the classroom that contribute to poor results inside the classroom. In order to actually improve our country's public education system these social problems need to be addressed. However, with NCLB and now a Blueprint for Reform our government shows very little intent of ever addressing those issues.

  11. NCLB and RTTT are predicated on the idea that schools function like neoclassical economics- competition and incentives will inevitably increase the quality of education offered and produce a happy, flourishing society as the education of all students will prepare them for jobs/careers (which will vary depending on what they are meant to do, based on their inherent merit.) However, beyond the questions that surround neoclassical economics, there seems to be little evidence thus far of this idea that schools function in the same way that the market does, improving efficiency and quality with the pressure of competition. This is a key part of the argument supporting these pieces of legislation. In its absence, we are left wondering a) how the implementation of successful ‘models of reform’ can be spread from one school to the next and b) whether these successful models are actually transferable from one location to the next, due to differences in demographics, culture, etc. And this is all to say nothing of the inherent vagueness of the words thrown about in the RTTT legislation- such as ‘improved results for students, long-term gains in school and school system capacity, and increased productivity and effectiveness’ which give no clear indication of what it means to be ‘improved’, to experience ‘long-term gains’, and or what kind of ‘results’, ‘productivity’, and ‘effectiveness’ we are looking for. For all of these reasons and more, I am left feeling skeptical of both the intentions and efficacy of these policies.

  12. I agree with what everyone is posting about and how it is being worded. Plain and simple, we need a reform in the educational system. Too many things are falling in between the cracks. There is no protection for students or teachers within the system, and with that, there are students who are not even getting the chance to be educated. Why should a student be evaluated on solely one test score? It does not make much sense to me as to why society and our government feel as though this is the best way to see if a child is succeeding within the walls of their classroom. So many other things can come into play in situations like these. We know that President Obama sees this and realizes that something needs to be done. He knows and has acknowledged that No Child Left Behind is flawed and needs to be re-evaluated. Our society has been built around the ability to produce, and compete. Therefore, the idea of shifting policies such as No Child Left Behind and others to something that focuses on much more of the process of getting to where they are seems unrealistic because in our society it doesn’t matter how you got there, as long as you GET THERE. Competition and the value of product is the downfall to policies like this one, but at the same time what is the incentive if there is not any competition? I believe that the most important thing that we need to be focusing on with these kids is that they are taking something out of their education that will help them be a contributing member of society, and I do not think that scoring the best on a test will teach you things that you will use in every day life.

  13. Like many people have said in their posts, I have mixed feelings about Blueprint and Race to the Top. Although some aspects of the new Blueprint policy do seem to promise change, it is hard to say that the policy as a whole will be a positive change. Much of Obama’s policy is just a continuation of No Child Left Behind. It seems like the wording was just changed to make it sound more positive- emphasizing reward for the successful schools rather than punishment for the failing schools. This discourse, however, further increases the inequality by providing the successful schools with more resources. Another emphasis of the policy is putting pressure on teachers, principles, and the administration, and holding these people accountable for the success of their students. I completely agree with Olivia B’s statement that even the most successful teacher cannot overcome the racism and poverty in our country that has affected children in the education system. Amazing teachers are extremely important, but something else needs to change to allow teachers to be successful in classrooms. I want to believe that these policies will help change the education system, but it seems that in order to enact change in schools we need to focus on social issues first and foremost.

  14. As Grace laid out for us the Blueprint For Reform takes steps away from NCLB. However, the Blueprint For Reform has fundamental qualities similar to NCLB. One of these qualities is the emphasize on reward and merit. I agree with Grace that on the surface this looks good but we should analyze this part of the policy with caution. In my opinion children and schools should be rewarded for their accomplishments and achievements. At the same time schools who are underperforming should be reprimanded and corrected. The problem is the way these rewards and punishments are being implemented. If the schools were truly on a level playing field than I would believe in this system. Being an athlete I know both the good and bad qualities of competition. For example playing football has helped build relationships with my teammates that are unique to relationships that i have with my classmates. All the early morning lifts, late night meetings, and hard practices in which we are pushed physically and mentally helps bond relationships with my teammates. Competition is rooted in all of the things previously discussed. On the other hand however competition does create animosity amongst the larger communities. For example I dislike greatly other teams in our conference. Some of them are probably good people but because they wear another jersey I just don't like them. Now in relation to schools competition can be positive but it is dependent upon our goals for schools. To me it would be naive to say change is something that seems like an easy task. I would like to give NCLB some credit in that the policy makers intentions were genuine. But intentions and results are two different things. I am not saying that I don't think we should have a more community based school system it is just hard for me to see any change. Schools are not the only problem in our country and I am trying to figure out if schools are the product of change or the result of change. Do we start with change in schools or should we as a society try to tackle another issue first, like our economy?