Understanding Race To The Top (RTTT) proposals is complex work, but the mainstream press is having none of it. Their take on RTTT is much simpler. Possibly too simple.

According to many articles, the data systems that are intended to backbone the hard work of refoming schools are, instead, all about “reward(ing) good teachers and weed(ing) out ineffective ones”. At least, that seems to be the conclusion of June Kronholz at the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media. Krunholz’ paper, “Out of the Starting Blocks: Delaware and Tennessee Begin Their Race to the Top” was featured in a recent Education Week Blog.  The paper more than anything speaks to the highly complex nature of states’ challenges to launch and execute their proposal plans and communicate those plans with the public. As a result of the press reducing the intent of RTTT to its most public-pandering component, an essential element of school change is being shortchanged.

What is less commonly reported, it would seem, is the boon to teachers and teaching that solid data systems represent.  The timeliness and power of new data systems will allow educators to get better, actionable information, faster than ever. In the past, when data teams  administered diagnostic or formative assessments and the data didn’t return for weeks, the ability to quickly make instructional changes to benefit students fell into the proverbial “too little, too late” category. Or, if you’re in a state where last year’s state assessment data is encumbered and you are already into the third month of the academic year, how is this translating into the high quality data use that RttT is promoting?

I haven’t read the fine print of each of the RttT proposals but I’m hoping that somewhere, someone thought to include a strategy for getting the data where it will actually do the most good – into teachers’ hand. And then when they start to use data effectively – and create better learning opportunities for all students – the mainstream press will have a much more constructive story to report.

PS It’s my contention that if all teachers had the time, the support and the structure for analyzing their students’ data, much of the rest of RttT would be a moot point. I suppose I’m just very naive.