Here are some highlights:
1. No Correlation Between Race to the Top Reform and NAEP Gains:
Exaggeration about NAEP scores, however, has largely trumped reason. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has claimed that the bump is the result of newfound “honesty” with teachers about achievement gaps, and of their evaluation based on student test scores under the federal Race to the Top initiative. If that were the case, we should see similar increases across other states implementing similar policies under RTTT. We do not. Rather, we see a random assortment of increases — in Tennessee and Washington, DC, but also in Iowa and Washington, which did not implement the same reforms — and unimpressive results in states like Colorado and Louisiana, both of which employ test-based evaluation systems.
2. Achievement Gaps Grew During “Reform” Implementation:
And if Race to the Top were “succeeding,” we should see achievement gaps shrink — after all, its reforms target disadvantaged students in particular. What we saw in Tennessee was the opposite — achievement gaps grew between students who do and do not qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch, a sizeable group in the state. Poor students fell further behind their more advantaged peers in both reading and math in 4th grade and in 8th grade math these past two years. Both fourth grade gaps widened by six points. In other words, if RTTT has had an impact on NAEP scores, it seems to be further boosting the existing advantage of white and higher-income students, not the disadvantaged ones it purports to help.
3. Investment in Teachers and Pre-K Seems to Trump “Reform” for Gap Closure
Huffman also ignores slow-but-steady NAEP gains over the past two decades in neighboring Kentucky, a state that refuses to use test scores to evaluate teachers, has no charter schools, and invests more than Tennessee in its teachers and its pre-kindergarten programs. Kentucky’s gains accrue to students who need them most — its poor students post smaller gaps than Tennessee’s in three of four categories.
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