“Do you have textbooks for students to take home?” topped my list of questions during my third round of interviews in five years. After teaching in two Chicago Public Schools closed for reconstitution, the resources most schools expect became luxuries I dreamed of acquiring. I should have been laughed out of the office. Instead, the principal looked me in the eyes and said yes, brand new books for every student, and even a set for the classroom.
On Wednesday, Mayor Daley pulled Chicago Public Schools former CEO Arne Duncan’s pigtails, publicly criticizing the selection process for Race to the Top. The program required states to compete for $3.4 billion, awards ranging from $20 million to $700 million. Out of 19 finalists, Illinois finished 15th. The Obama administration’s program requires each state’s governor to begin the application process for a chance to “win” funds. The 103 page application focuses on four specific areas: implement standards and assessments to prepare students for continued education and the real world; build data systems to measure student growth and progress, and inform teachers and administrators how to improve instruction; recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and administrators; and turn around the lowest-achieving schools. (US Department of Education, 2010)
For CPS teachers and administrators Race to the Top goals should sound familiar. This is why Duncan wasn’t the only one to feel Daley’s slap. Mayor Daley questioned why current CEO for Chicago Public Schools, Ron Huberman, wasn’t part of the application process. That’s actually a great question. Current top officials for CPS, who served under Duncan, would be the most likely candidates to work on this project. The Illinois State Board of Education developed a Growth Model Working Group with just shy of 30 members. Only one member was chosen from CPS’s Office of Performance Management. (Illinois State Board of Education, 2010) Why weren’t any current classroom teachers in the group? How many of those chosen have expertise with the state’s lowest performing schools?
I’d also like to know how much the application process cost the state to complete.
Overall, Mayor Daley had every right to crack jokes at Race to the Top’s expense, “You leave no child left behind. You race to the top. Next year, you race to the bottom. Next year, you race to the side. Everybody’s racing to something.” Daley also stated Race to the Top is nothing more than a political “slogan” and educators aren’t fooled. (Spielman, 2010)
For being left out of the Race to the Top application process, I understand Mayor Daley’s criticism. I know how it feels to be ignored. When Arne Duncan served as CEO for CPS many schools closed for low performance and attendance issues. DuSable and Englewood, my first teaching jobs, were only two schools with high teacher and administration turnover rates, gang violence, drug problems, transient student populations, and limited technology and resources to start the list. As I was put in the position to violate copyright laws to provide students with reading material, I had to question my integrity. I was annoyed with a policy which erased the schools serving the neediest students, asking them to cross gang boundaries and adding travel time to students’ commute.
After learning that not only would I have textbooks, but access to a copy machine too, I took the job. It was a step up from my previous school. Call it crazy, but I would do it again even though Best Practice High School would be my third CPS school to close. I learned from my mistake. Will our new governor and the Illinois State Board of Education do the same?
Although education is a topic current senate and governor candidates are discussing for November’s election, I, for one, will no longer be satisfied with a set of books. Therefore, I want to know the programs receiving state and federal funds are more than “slogans” as Mayor Daley asserted. How will the governor handle the application process for 2011? Obama is requesting $1.35 billion to fund Race to the Top in 2011, but will changes be made in the process from the federal government’s side? Learning from our mistakes is part of a solid education.
Illinois State Board of Education. (2010). Retrieved Wednesday, September 15, 2010, from http://www.isbe.net/GMWG/pdf/GMWG_members.pdf
Spielman, Fran. (2010, September 16). Daley Rips U.S. Snub on Education Funds: Chicago Sun Times [online]. Retrieved Thursday, September 16, 2010 from http://www.suntimes.com/news/cityhall/2714966,CST-NWS-daley16.article
US Department of Education. (2010). Retrieved Wednesday, September 15, 2010, from http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html