In 2009, under the direction of President Barack Obama, the United States Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). As a part of this act, a competitive grant fund was established for individual states. This Race to the Top (RttP) grant fund was to be used to implement or improve public schools in four key areas. These included:
Data has shown over several years that there is an extensive achievement gap in our nation’s public school system between Caucasian students and non-Caucasian students. In a time when we not only have to compete for jobs and industry nationally but also internationally, this fact that a good percentage of U.S. youth are not leaving high school ready for college or sustainable employment is a real threat to our nation’s future. In healthcare, nursing students are taught that even upon admission to the facility, the end goal of discharging the patient is always to be kept in the forefront of any healthcare decisions. American educational systems have the same theory that the end goal is always at the forefront. Even from preschool, the goal of education is to develop skills that will make our students successful, not only in their future school years, but also as functioning adult contributors to the well-being of America. This is evident with programs such as Race to the Top which aims to give each and every student, no matter where in America, or which school district they live in, the opportunity to have the teachers, curriculum, support, and education that will ensure their future success in life.
Twenty-first century Americans are no longer simply affecting each other. With the instantaneous nature of technology, the competition for trade partners, corporations that are internationally based, and the race to be the first to develop new technologies and solutions, Americans in this day and age must be prepared to compete with each other and their international counterparts. Prior to the Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957, the United States was in a bubble. The Industrial Revolution had brought our country into the realm of international trade and competition, but the reality of that competition hit home for the average citizen when Sputnik was launched. In each and every decade since then, new skills and competencies have been stressed for students and adults to support our nation’s viability as an international powerhouse. We must develop adults who can think through a problem and provide multiple creative solutions. Technology has become the cornerstone of current society; Americans must understand how technology works, how it can be implemented, and what new solutions could be developed to augment current technologies. What is most troubling to me is that children must have a solid understanding of basic reading, math, and writing to move forward into the skills and knowledge that higher level competencies require. Those basic skills must become second nature to a child before he can comprehend, debate, support, analyze, evaluate, manipulate, or create new information, skill sets, and proficiencies. If we fail at making sure those foundations are strong, we are setting up our students to fail in school.
There is no one instructional methodology or curriculum that can be used by every teacher in every classroom that would meet the needs of every student. Children come from diverse backgrounds, experiences, home lives, situations, and learning styles. What is suitable for one group of children may not work at all with another group, even within one classroom. The challenge for educators is to find and implement a curriculum that is suitable for their demographics. The same can be said of student assessment. We cannot assess urban kids using analogies about farm animals, just as we cannot assess rural students using urban situations. Should our students be exposed to these situations? Absolutely. My husband often says, You can lead a horse to water, but that doesn’t make it a duck. He says it in jest, but it really rings true in education. We can expose our students to so many situations and concepts, but the reality is that we must make our teaching and assessments real-world for our students. Therefore, I reiterate that there is no one instructional methodology or curriculum that can be used by every teacher in every classroom that would meet the needs of every student.
In a perfect world, every student would enter the classroom with the same skillset, knowledge, and understanding. In my first grade classroom, that would mean that each student would walk through my door on August 15th knowing the names of all the letters in the alphabet and the sounds each one makes and be able to count, read, and write numbers 0-100. They would each be able to tie their own shoes, write with the correct handwriting strokes, and speak in complete sentences. Every child would go home to a loving home where there is a parent who will sit next to him, read to him, feed him a healthy supper that night and breakfast the next morning, insist that he brush his teeth and take a bath. Unfortunately, we all know that is not the case. There is no utopia.
Race to the Top tries to alleviate some of the school based inequalities students encounter. It attempts to ensure that all schools have an entire staff full of teachers who care and put in the effort to maintain their own skills so they can challenge and support their students. It attempts to provide an opportunity for all schools to have guiding standards and assessments which educators can use to structure lessons and concepts around. RttP attempts to provide incentives for all schools to be able to track and assess individual student data so that educators can further adjust lessons and concepts to bring students to mastery. In theory, by providing incentives to schools to implement all of those reforms, then America’s lowest performing schools will not be so low performing any longer. In theory, then all students at all schools would have the same basic skills and competencies to ensure their success in college and the workforce. It sounds like a wonderful idea. The problem is, who funds these reforms? North Carolina received a Race to the Top grant and implemented all of the reforms. Their schools and students made progress. However, at the end of the grant program, many jobs that had been created to implement the reforms were cut due to lost funding. Now, the state is struggling to make the reforms permanent because the reduced money and staff aren’t able to support the schools that need the reforms the most (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2015. p. 21).
I teach in a small rural school. Our town has a population of 1,360 and our school’s K-12 enrollment is about 250 students. We use the Northwest Education Association’s (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments three times per year to assess student proficiency and growth. I find this very useful data as it breaks it down into subsections and shows me exactly what concepts each student is struggling or excelling with. However, the MAP data is not a complete picture of my students’ growth throughout the school year. I also use formative data with each lesson and throughout the year. There are so many things that students do and achieve throughout their ten months with me that cannot be assessed on a standardized test. While I do compare each of my student’s MAP results with our district-wide results and the MAP national norms, I also use their daily work to measure growth and proficiency. One of the questions you have posed to us is whether or not international benchmarking would be useful. I am conflicted here. While I think it would be interesting to know what students in other countries who are the same age as my students are learning in their classroom, I don’t think that we could use benchmarks to compare my six year olds to the six year olds in Spain, for example. However, I do think that those who create education policy in our country should look to other countries for guidance. If we are in such dire straits and our students are so far behind students in other countries, then logically, we should look to what those other countries are doing for their children. In fact, an article in the journal Gifted Child Today (Spring, 2010, p. 7) summarized research done by Ginsburg, et.al. where it was found that the Asian countries of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea do use an international standard for mathematics. All of these countries’ students are very high-performing in math. It may serve our students well to formulate math standards, scope, and sequence to emulate the practices of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea. We instruct our students to watch the teacher model the correct way to do, write, solve, and create every day in our classrooms. American policymakers should be instructed to do the same.
It goes without saying that as educators, we all want our students to succeed in school and in life. As citizens of the United States, we want to be safe in the knowledge that we will be globally competitive to sustain the economy and level of comfort that we are used to as Americans. As human beings, we all want to know that we will be taken care of in our old age. The accomplishment of all of this begins with assuring that our children receive the education they need and deserve in order to be fully functional, successful, forward-thinking, productive members of the society of the future. The major advantage of our national priority of ensuring success for every student is that national and state policymakers, governmental agencies, district level administrators, teachers, and the public all should know in what direction education is going and how we are going to achieve our goals for children. Achieving national priorities is difficult, however, because all of the programs cost money to implement. How to acquire funding is a major national debate. Should local school districts be allowed to raise their levies so that more property tax is paid? Should the funding come from the state level with funds from gambling institutions, higher income taxes, or sales taxes? Or should funds be allocated by the national government to states to distribute to local school districts? According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, 2018), public investment in education has stalled since the beginning of the century (p. 94) in the United States. Somehow, national, state, and local leaders must find ways to properly fund schools so that our students can be globally competitive.
I have always known that each and every child can learn something every day in my classroom. It may not be the same thing that her neighbor learned, but she will learn something every day. I believe that America needs to be reminded of child development. What was second grade material thirty years ago is now being taught in kindergarten. I don’t believe that just because something is taught to a child, they will be able to learn it. Their brains are still forming; young children are not developmentally ready for all that we are throwing at them. In the countries of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea, mathematical content is taught to students in a progression of skills. New skills are not taught until previous skills are mastered. This allows for an adjustment of the grade placement of content to fit the learning pace of individual students within a common standards framework (Gifted Child Today, 2010). I agree with what Race to the Top was attempting to do. I believe in the idea of national standards of education so that all children are definitely taught what they need to know and be able to do by the time they are ready to enter the workforce. I don’t think it is possible to be an effective teacher without tracking assessment data to inform my teaching. Effective collaborative data systems are the only way to gauge how we are doing as we are preparing our students for the future. I wholeheartedly believe that every child deserves a highly qualified, effective teacher to lead and prepare him for the future. I believe that if every school everywhere was able to implement the first three of the Race to the Top reforms, there would be no need for the fourth reform, turning around low performing schools, because there would be no low performing schools.
My personal education philosophy is that every child who enters my classroom will learn and their knowledge and skill sets will grow. They will feel safe, loved, and smart. I strive every day to fulfill the Race to the Top goals. I correlate my lessons to our Nebraska State Standards and try to teach so that each and every child achieves mastery. Does mastery always happen for every student? No, but I keep trying. I use assessment data to guide my lesson planning and individual instruction. I try to be the best teacher I can be for my students every day, because that is what they deserve.
International benchmarks in mathematics. (2010). Gifted Child Today, 33(2), 7.
Retrieved from https://go.openathens.net/redirector/ace.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/203257921?accountid=31683
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (2015). North Carolina Race to the Top Closeout Report.
Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/state-reported-sharing/ncexsumm.pdf
OECD (2017). Economic Surveys UNITED STATES. 2018(14). OECD Publishing, Paris.
Retrieved from https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/oecd-economic-surveys-united-states-
U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Race to the Top Fund.
Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html.
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