Accountability and “Racing to the Top” in New York State: A Report from the Front Lines
by Harry Leonardatos & Katie Zahedi - 2014
Background & Purpose: This article focuses on the current educational reform movement in New York State resulting from the state’s receipt of $700 million in Race to the Top (RTTT) money. Specifically, the article will focus on one aspect of the RTTT requirement, which requires that school districts develop teacher accountability systems that are based in part on test data, i.e. the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). We will provide an account of how the New York State Education Department’s implementation of RTTT has changed the role of educators, eroded autonomy in publicly controlled schools, promoted a culture of mistrust, diverted funds from the classroom to meet governmental directives, and paved the way for corporate vendors to profit from taxpayer money. Finally, we will examine whether the APPR policy developed to hold teachers accountable using an objective metric is a reliable and valid one.
Research Design: We examine the APPR legislation passed by both the legislative and executive bodies of New York State by focusing on field guidance documents and legislation released by the State Education Department (SED) as well as memos we received from SED. We also review how school districts have decided to implement APPR in their local environment. Finally, articles appearing in the press about the APPR have also been surveyed to ascertain key themes about the question whether teacher effectiveness can be objectively measured by those standards set forth by the SED.
Conclusions: The APPR policy as it is currently implemented is an unreliable tool in measuring teacher performance. Its subjectivity and inconsistent implementation calls into question the core purpose of this reform, i.e. to rid schools of poor performing teachers, while identifying those that are excellent. The implementation of RTTT and APPR has deteriorated the quality of public education in New York State by creating confusion through untested policies, creating a culture of distrust, diverting money from the classroom to for profit vendors, and developing a pedagogic methodology of teaching to the test.
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