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Whipsawed by... Arne Duncan!--US Dept of Edu uses incentives to separate states from teachers unions
The US Dept of Education is supporting a somewhat conflicted array of funding programs for US schools. Two the highest-impact items are:
  • Limiting award of "Race to the Top" funding to states that strongly support charter schools 
  • Increasing teacher "accountability" by tying performance reviews (and pay increases) to students test scores 
The confluence of these initiatives, of course, is that they squeeze the teachers unions to be much more accommodating to the ideas and proposals of Dept of Edu Sect'y Arne Duncan.

Charter schools can operate with more freedom from regulation than public schools can. As a result, many have non-traditional aspects--they might offer special support to learning through technology, or through arts, public service, one-on-one instruction or any of a panoply of innovations.

(Some, like the network of Aspire Public Schools, focus on preparing disadvantaged and urban kids for national tests through the address of social, psychological and academic barriers.) 

Charter schools in many instances ask teachers to work longer hours and/or receive lower pay or benefits than public schools do. 

Race to the Top will make $4 billion available to states, but the 10 states that don't allow charter schools have been told that it's likely they'll get... nothing. In some instances, such as Washington state, charter-school initiatives have been beaten back repeatedly by teachers unions. In others, such as California (which allows Charters under some conditions) policymakers are already conferring on ways to ensure qualifying for funding. The Race to the Top funding restrictions will put teachers unions under a lot of pressure to back easing of regulations on charter schools. 

And at virtually the same moment, they're being "asked" to put aside long-standing positions regarding merit pay and specifically merit pay tied to student test performances. 

No one's asked me, and I don't have a particular ax to grind re charters, but...

First, teachers in the US are already underpaid, under-respected and under-professionalized (conditions that they share with colleagues in many other countries!). I would rather see funding to _increase_ their pay and professionalism over time (i.e., without skewing existing payscales), attract higher-quality candidates, retain them, and develop their skills over the span of their careers than I would funding to support "creative" schooling models that rely on squeezing more out of teachers while paying them less. 

Second, tying teachers' pay to student test scores risks--no, it WILL--warp teaching and learning completely. Test scores are already known to be poor gauges of competency and extremely poor predictors of later success; increasing their direct importance to teachers will further abstract learning in schools from effective, knowledge-building real-world behaviors. 


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