Race to the Top and Energized Teachers: An Oxymoron Kathleen Jasper February 10, 2014 I walk into a science classroom. I am there to evaluate a new teacher’s classroom performance. I have my rubric in hand, which has 4 domains. Within those 4 domains are a bunch of subdomains. It is pages and pages long. So as I sit in the back of the room to evaluate the instructor, I am scrolling through this enormous rubric trying to find where on this linear measure this teacher’s instruction fits. He knows I am looking at the rubric so he tries to hit the domains that will improve his score. After all, his livelihood and reputation as a teacher is depending on it. Out of nowhere he refers to the object for the day, which he has already gone over prior to me coming into his class. But because it is a point on the rubric, he goes ahead and shifts instruction to be sure I hear him say, “Our objective today is to relate the structure….” The objective always matches the standard, which will eventually be tested. The students aren’t even fazed by this shift in instruction. They are used to seeing their teachers put on the spot. Students, themselves, are used to being put through similar high-stakes tests. I would have given this teacher an awesome evaluation regardless of that stupid rubric because he is an incredible educator and as an instructional leader I don’t need a rubric to tell me what effective teaching looks like. However, the rubric was implemented to take out the subjectivity of evaluations. Well, that is impossible. EVERYTHING is subjective, especially things like instruction and learning. That’s why we claim to differentiate everything. It is impossible to have an authentic experience teaching and/or learning in a classroom when the teacher is simply trying to adhere to a completely unrealistic rubric. Click here for a complete look at the Lee County Teacher Evaluation Rubric. We engage in this type of practice because we won $700,000,000 in education funding from Race to the Top. Before awarding us these funds the federal government wanted a rigorous accountability system in place complete with a detailed and equally rigorous teacher evaluation system. Let’s face it; you don’t get $700,000,000 from the government without selling a little bit of your soul. Unless of course you are a financial institution, and then they will just hand you the money. But in public education, we had to whore ourselves out and compromise our principles for that money; it was a decision we knew would hurt teachers and students. But $700,000,000 is a lot of money. So the state of Florida went for it and wrote this on the application to The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, for RTTT funding in 2010. Florida’s RTTT Theory of Reform: Highly effective teachers and leaders make the difference. Human capital is the core of Florida’s RTTT theory of reform. Florida will change the culture of the profession by ensuring that all teachers and school leaders are well selected, prepared, supported, respected, and accountable for their students’ achievement. It is the state’s responsibility to be strategic and intentional in providing teachers and leaders with the support system they need to make instructional decisions that result in students who are internationally competitive. Florida envisions a student-centered school environment where all teachers are engaged in peer collaboration around using data analysis to improve teaching and learning, and where teachers are consistently guided and supported by effective instructional leaders. As a result of RTTT, teachers in Florida will enter the classroom each day energized by a level of ownership, responsibility, and pride in their students’ outcomes. The last sentence of this paragraph, which is only a small piece of the 351-page RTTT grant application, is what really gets me: “As a result of RTTT, teachers in Florida will enter the classroom each day energized by a level of ownership, responsibility, and pride in their students’ outcomes.” Energy and pride are not byproducts of RTTT. Exhaustion and apathy are though. We have put so many initiatives in place needed to satisfy the requirements of this grant. The evaluations alone will exhaust a teaching and administrative staff to the point where in meetings we do not see a group of engaged and inspired educators; instead we see a tired, marginalized group of professionals saying on a regular basis, “I need to find a way to get out of here.” If it were only a few bad teachers trying to leave the profession, I would say, let them leave if they don’t want to be here. But when I see effective and engaging educators trying to find ways to leave the classroom because they cannot continue to function in the current system, I get worried and wonder why are we implementing policies that push good teachers out? I never thought I would ever say this about money in education, but we should have never gone for the RTTT money. It came with too many strings attached. Our autonomy, creativity, sanity, time and love of our practice have been severely compromised in our quest for this funding. It’s time to take a long hard look at what is being asked in return for this money and decide if we are willing to continue down this road of alienating our teachers and students by pushing them beyond the breaking point for political reasons, unrelated to learning.