Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Race Is On

“As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them.” This quote resonates with me as I consider the Race to the Top (RttT).   Zimmer’s New York Times essay, Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do Chimps Don't (readit @  or view the study @ ) has particular meaning for me. Essentially, what makes human learning different from that of chimps is our affinity for imitation even when we don’t see the underlying necessity for prescribed steps. Sound familiar? Student teaching is the ultimate exercise in monkey see, monkey do! However, when we use this discovery of our innate nature as a lens for educational reforms, well you can see why these movements are often viewed as suspect and are met with skepticism by many.
We teachers want to be like those we admired. For me it was my own dad – forever the litmus test that I use to measure my own successes and failures. I am the one looking down with the curly hair.  But here’s the rub, education will never be static. I can never be like him because the world is different. There is no linear path; I can only strive to be a model to others as he was to me. Indeed, our profession has been endowed by the collective consciousness of those who went before us. This understanding is drawn from their talents, discoveries, innovations, and precious mistakes. Their mistakes are of great consequence to us because this where real learning comes to fruition.

 Growing pains that force us stretch ourselves to the next level. There would never be growth if there was not opportunity to reflect. If we are to be real innovators as our forefathers, we must continue to reexamine our practice. Sometimes we have to break away from what we know and venture out to make new tools for learning. But we do this with the understanding that educational reforms are inextricably bound to our nation’s history. And that is what draws me back to RttT. I feel I must look back before I can look forward (

Teachers who practice during periods of big educational reforms are like masons laying bricks for a path to an uncertain destination. The future is ever-changing so we cannot know how our actions will go down in the history books. But we can comprehend how RttT came to be. No Child Left Behind was a huge initiative which brought about Reading First. Reading First led the charge towards Response to Intervention which is fundamental to Race to the Top.

In a nutshell, Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion reform that necessitates the following:
Adopting standards and assessment that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy

Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction

Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most

Turning around our lowest-achieving schools

There were two winning states for Phase One funding. The winners were Delaware (score 454.6) and Tennessee (score 444.2). Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said, “Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools” 
Our own state of New York was a finalist and is now reapplying for grant monies during Phase Two. However, there is one caveat to the initial application process. States must comply with the established regional funding parameters.

While funding is paramount because nothing can be accomplished without the almighty dollar; “buy-in” is perhaps more essential. Nothing will work unless the stakeholders (LEAs) believe in the reform itself. So for now this is how I look to the future, I want to participate because I want my voice to be imbued with my colleagues. I want to ask my questions, the most pressing has to do with alternative routes to teaching certifications, and charter schools. I question whether others would be as worthy to work in my profession if they don’t follow a standardized path for teacher certification. Insofar as charter schools, the best school system in the nation is Massachusetts. Their success lies in a comprehensive state curriculum. This is not the first time that Massachusetts set a high standard for curriculum goals.
1642 - The Massachusetts Bay School Law is passed. It requires that parents assure their children know the principles of religion and the capital laws of the commonwealth.

1647 - The Massachusetts Law of 1647, also known as the Old Deluder Satan Act, is passed. It decrees that every town of at least 50 families hire a schoolmaster who would teach the town's children to read and write and that all towns of at least 100 families should have a Latin grammar school master who will prepare students to attend Harvard College.

Massachusetts has from the birth of our nation, consistently led the way for a curriculum centered approach to educational design.  My  penchant to look back so we can move forward. We can see that it works, so I wonder why curriculum mapping is not one of the major bulleted items for RttT.

More to come on that one next time readers; but if you want to check out an incredible article get a copy of American Educator and read Diane Ravitch’s In Need of a Renaissance . In the meantime, I say thank you to all members of my profession. We are are joined by our mission – to observe, to learn, to question, to create, to teach.

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1 comment:

  1. (My comment is actually about an August blog post of yours, but I couldn't find the comment button on that post, so I popped in here.)

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your vocabulary lesson around the book The Pout-Pout Fish. I had great fun with the words and the sounds in the story, and it's a joy to me when the book brings fun vocabulary alive for kids.

    I have some small bookmarks with Mr. Fish on them -- if you'd like a batch for your students, please let me know.

    All best,
    Debbie Diesen