Holding Education Hostage

New York Review of Books blog, 2/1/13, by Diane Ravitch

Grandville
For weeks, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers have been battling over the issue of teacher evaluation. Governor Andrew Cuomo set a deadline for them to reach an agreement, but they failed to do so, potentially costing the city schools hundreds of millions of dollars. The state education commissioner, John King, jumped into the fray by threatening to withhold over a billion dollars in state and federal aid if there was no settlement between the parties. Now, Governor Cuomo says that he may intervene and take charge of the stalemated negotiations.

What’s going on here? Why can’t the mayor and the union reach an agreement? Why does Commissioner King intend to punish the city’s children if the grown-ups don’t agree?

The imbroglio began with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. Immediately after Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, with the economy in free fall, Congress passed the huge economic stimulus package, which included $100 billion to aid schools: $95 billion to be disbursed to states to avoid massive layoffs of teachers and the remaining $5 billion to be given to the US Department of Education to promote education reforms.

The new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan huddled with his advisors and decided to create the so-called Race to the Top, a competition among states for the new funds. Instead of asking states to come up with their own best ideas for education reform, Duncan laid out a laundry list of policies states must put in place to be eligible to win millions of dollars. Among them was a requirement that state governments base teacher evaluations to a significant degree on the test scores of their students. The assumption was that good teachers produce higher test scores every year, while ineffective teachers do not….

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