Is the Race to the Top A Race to the Bottom?
Race to the Top funding has helped create some success stories in Delaware's public school system. But this race has also presented its share of hurdles, including a morale problem among the state's teachers. Now the one-time cash infusion is running out.
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Delaware DOE describes the standards, limited to math and English language arts for now (although Next Generation Science Standards are on the way), as providing a clear benchmark for what should be learned in public schools throughout the country. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers coordinated the initiative. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell served as chair of the initiative for the Governors Association and helped drive the national effort.
Critics, like the Delaware Education Reform Coalition, oppose the standards in part because they say they are a federal mandate handed down by corporations and bureaucrats. They say that these types of decisions should be made at the local level and involve parents. Markell says the standards were developed at the local level and started by states.
Regardless, Delaware adopted the Common Core standards in English language arts and math in August 2010, and the state has been rolling them out in grades K-12 ever since. During the first two years of Race to the Top, the state trained 9,000 educators (94 percent of all teachers) on how to teach Common Core. Delaware DOE, through what it calls data coaches, has also offered additional professional development on Common Core that deals with new writing rubrics and aligning literary texts to appropriate grade levels.
Simply put, the Common Core approach focuses on critical thinking rather than simply rote memorization.
Smarter Balanced, the new statewide test tied to the Common Core standards, is expected to replace the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System—which replaced the Delaware Student Testing Program just a few years ago. The Smarter Balanced assessment is scheduled to undergo a pilot phase this spring before being launched fully next school year—although Jenner says that teachers have not been informed officially of whether the new test will be used next school year.
No matter which side you’re on, it will be interesting to see how students perform on the new test—as well as how teacher evaluations that are tied to students’ performance and improvement play out. Some have questioned how the system can close the achievement gap while simultaneously raising curriculum standards.