Mike the Mad Biologist

Last week, we looked at how the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” education ‘reform’ legislation screwed over Massachusetts because MA had the silly idea that changing the curriculum (dumbing it down, actually) of one of the most successful educational systems in the world should be presented to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Silly Mad Biologist: we want to teach kids about democracy and citizenship, not have them grow up and do them. Jeepers. Some people.

Anyway, “Race to the Top” also screws over science education, especially innovative programs to expose young children to science (italics mine):

…consider the case of Pennsylvania, which received the full five points for the “other significant reform” metric. Reviewers praised the state for “align[ing] early childhood education standards, curriculum, instruction and assessment to research on how young children learn, allowing more students to get a head start on learning before entering the elementary grades,” and for “invest[ing] in programs to expose elementary school students to handson science.” Both of these initiatives are supported by extensive research and are consistent with federal policy. Indeed, in the recent Congressional health care reconciliation bill, the Obama administration attempted to re-direct funds to early childhood challenge grants that would have supported just the kinds of reforms for which Pennsylvania was praised, and the federal government is in the process of redesigning the National Assessment of Educational Progress so that its science assessment includes more hands-on items.

We noted above that by adding a few points to some perhaps more important indicators, Georgia, not Tennessee, would have won the competition. What if, as well, the judgment of governors and other state policy makers were given greater respect, by giving a weight of 25%, not a mere 1%, to “demonstrating other significant reform conditions,” such as those in Pennsylvania’s plan? Because the criterion would still have required that the reform be “significant,” reviewers would not have been required to award points for state policies that were not well-designed and research based. But if, with such a precaution, the weights had been modified in this way, Georgia would no longer have beaten out Tennessee. Neither Georgia nor Tennessee would have won–Pennsylvania would have been declared the winner.

Pennsylvania, in short, has now been told by the Department of Education that if it wants to compete successfully in the next round of RTT competition, then the state should downplay its focus on early childhood and science education, and put its efforts instead into categories that get more points but which, in fact, have a much weaker research base.

Not only is this not evidence-based policy–call it, instead, faith-based educational reform–but it hurts science education. One of the great failures of the education ‘reformers’ is that they focus exclusively on math and English scores to the exclusion of other subject areas. Obviously, math and English do matter, but science does too. Social studies, foreign languages, and art are crucial too–but that’s very French of me.

What’s frightening is that “Race to the Top” is considered to be a test case for more ‘reforms.’

EPIC FAIL. As the EPI researchers note:

States that lost in the March competition have been invited to re-apply, and several are doing so, again investing time and expense to re-do their applications. Experts in these states are likely to spend many hours studying the review process employed in March, so they can recommend small changes in their states’ applications to exploit the quirks of the Department’s rating system. Such gaming is unlikely to reflect an actual improvement in the education policies of applicant states.

That’s education ‘reform’ in a nutshell.