Education Hot Spots Of 2010

This has been a disappointing year for many educators. Let me explain why.

Race To The Top

The year in education began with the push for the first round of Race To The Top (RTTT), applications due January 19. As I wrote here, earlier this year, to qualify for the RTTT money, states had to commit to closing historic achievement gaps and to getting more students into college. Sounds good, right? But they had to do it in more than 30 specific ways dictated by President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan.

For example, they had to support more charter schools, use merit pay in determining teacher and principal salaries, revamp data systems so that schools became data-driven, and improve standardized test scores.

While education experts applauded the idea of lending support to the quest for excellent schools, not everyone agreed with the methods that the Department of Education endorsed.  Many believed that states desperate for money pushed ahead quickly and changed their rules without much conviction, just to give themselves a better chance.

Others feared that the Race to the Top was trying to design a one-size-fits-all solution to education reform, exacerbating the problems that began with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

There were eventually 12 winners, and a whole lot of disgruntled losers. Is that any way to run education?

The Year Of The Billionaire

Rather than asking teachers about what works best for them, our policymakers turned to the wealthy. The Gates Foundation is one example among many.

“It is not unfair to say that the Gates Foundation’s agenda has become the country’s agenda in education,” said Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, summing up the opinion of many educators. This agenda is one that uses competition and economic incentives as the driving force to move us ahead as a nation. (See the previous section on RTTT.)

But teachers are not car-salespeople, and so we are not motivated to produce better results by being offered more pay for higher test scores. It doesn’t work like that for teachers.

Other billionaire funding has come from Eli Broad, of the Broad Foundation, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, to name just two, and they too have their agendas: mostly to seek to control our educational system. This is bad news for educators.

Value-Added Ratings

Last fall, The Los Angeles Times chose to publish their database of “value-added” ratings for about 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers and 470 elementary schools.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers who taught at least 60 students from the 2002-03 through 2008-09 academic years were evaluated in the Times analysis.

A teacher’s value-added rating is based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value” a teacher added or subtracted during the year.

Obviously, value-added ratings do not capture everything that goes into making a good teacher or school. Evaluators should use multiple measures when evaluating both teachers and students. There is also some question about this exact model, since there are various ways of interpreting test scores.

Nevertheless, The Times decided to make the ratings available because “they bear on the performance of public employees who provide an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to the information.” Teachers in Los Angeles, and across the country, were outraged.

Thus, some teachers were publicly labeled “less effective teachers.” This undoubtedly contributed to the death of fifth-grade teacher Rigoberto Ruelas, who committed suicide after he was unfairly named in this way.

Waiting For Superman

Earlier this year, there was a lot of excitement about this movie. It stirred a national conversation on education, prompted NBC to discover education for a week, and turned director David Guggenheim into a school reform icon.

That’s all over. For one thing, Guggenheim made some questionable factual assertions, and for another there’s a scene in which he inserted a manufactured shot for emotional impact (a la Broadcast News).

Good – because, as I wrote here, this film is an abomination, and does a terrible disservice to the cause of education. Let me explain. I have been involved in education for most of my professional life. I consider myself an excellent teacher, with plenty of appreciative notes from my students to attest to that. There are tens of thousands of others like me. Yet we do not exist in this film; we are dismissed.

At the same time, the film is not only unrealistic, but also defiantly pro-charter schools, and anti-union. It was, quite simply, propaganda, in spite of the best efforts of Geoffrey Canada, who is a personal hero of mine.

America’s Enormous College Debt

Finally, as CNBC discussed in their powerful documentary, “Price of Admission: America’s College Debt Crisis,” student loans are the next big financial crisis that no one wants to talk about: college student debt in the U.S. is nearing one trillion dollars, with no end in sight. The debt is growing at the rate of $2,853 per second.

This means that the cost of higher education is currently rising at two to three times the rate of inflation, so it’s no wonder that many students are leaving college with more than just a degree. They are weighed down by staggering student loans.

As a result of this increasing student loan debt come rising student defaults. Student loan defaults have doubled since 2005, with seven percent being the official default rate, but in fact this number may be much higher.

But here’s the really shocking revelation: for-profit colleges take an astounding $24 billion in government money every year.

At these institutions, an estimated 96 percent of students borrow money to attend. And we are talking big business. According to CNBC, the University of Phoenix, the largest university in the country, with 470,000 students, made a staggering $3.8 billion in revenue in 2009.

As Tom Harkin, Senate Education Committe Chairman, puts it, “Schools get the money, students get the debt, and taxpayers lose out.”

I’m sure there were many positive events in education this year, but they are outweighed for me by the negative ones.

What do you think?

Related Stories: 

What Makes a Good Teacher? Ask the Students!

Is Race to the Top Obama’s Race to Nowhere?

A Holiday Hero: Geoffery Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone

Photo credit: iStock


Madeline KM
Madeline KM7 years ago

I think it's gross that teachers are rated publicly. They don't have the funds or the training to do their jobs right yet, it's a disgrace to publicly humiliate them for the country's deficit in understanding the importance of education. Of course, some teachers are going to be great or horrible either way. I just can't imagine being rated by Time for all to see. How awful.

Sundeep Shah
Sundeep Shah7 years ago


Sundeep Shah
Sundeep Shah7 years ago

thanks for the info

ilse D.
.7 years ago

thanks, education should be amoung the top list items. Education is our future in my eyes, young students shouldnt be in debt already because they want to learn .. it sounds totally wrong. In the UK every day my friend goes to uni he gets money for it.

Dan B.
Dan Brook7 years ago

Among other things, we need to raise up the profession of teaching and equalize funding amongst schools as well as lengthen the school day and school year.

Lawrence E.
Lawrence H E7 years ago

The negativity toward teachers that most school districts and reformers exhibit is just absurd. In all other areas, be they contamination from oil to industrial and manufacturing losses to the economic plunge that banks and insurance companies brought about do we look for successful people from outside the industry for help in solving the problem. With these problems the experts from within the systems are looked to for the solutions. In education it is just the opposite. Successful teachers and their methods are ignored while business models like Brasosport are introduced as saviors of the system. As a principal I was given many suggestions from outside "experts" as to how to improve the school. The best and most practicle solutions came from my faculty which included 5 teachers with over 150 years of experience between them. We did implement what we were told, but it never seemed to have the positive effects that we were seeking. Using mostly faculty input and Demming models of collaboration gave us improved results with student achievement and helped to keep tha faculty energized and up to date.

Karen Chung
Past Member 7 years ago

"...student loans are the next big financial crisis that no one wants to talk about: college student debt in the U.S. is nearing one trillion dollars...This means that the cost of higher education is currently rising at two to three times the rate of inflation..."

Colin Hope
Colin Hope7 years ago


Norm C.
Norm C7 years ago

If you want to read really good books on education, I offer a few that I thought were really good:

"The Power of Their Ideas", by Deborah Meier
"Savage Inequalities", by Jonathan Kozol
"Teaching as a Subversive Activity", by
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner

Norm C.
Norm C7 years ago

Education has been suffering through spending cuts since the early 70s. First it was to avoid sending kids to integrated schools and bussing. Then it was the pretext of property taxes putting non-existent seniors out of their homes. Then it was ... well, whatever come to the selfish minds of the "I don't want to pay taxes" filthy rich crowd.

When I went to college for my first degree, a SEMESTER at one of the best public univerities in the country (U of WI) cost me the outrageous sum of, are you ready?, $112.00. My second degree some years later cost me over $900 a QUARTER. And that was almost 20 years ago!

By defunding public education, the moneyed elites who selfishly want to make sure that they are the ones running the country and not the rabbly People, are making sure that fewer and fewer get to go to college; and if the rabble do graduate, they come out with so much debt that they have very few options except to meekly go along, to obey their masters.

I know this sounds a bit shrill. 40 or more years ago I never would have said anything like this. But this country no longer looks like the US of my youth. The US of my youth was a far friendlier place to normal Americans. It had a far stronger safety net. Most workers got a reasonably fair day's pay for a day's work. It valued all children, not merely the kids of the filthy rich. Education was for everyone's kids. We were serious about education.

The conservatives have starved our schools into wretchedness.