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Can Race to the Top Save Struggling Schools? (page 2)

Can Race to the Top Save Struggling Schools?

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Updated on Oct 5, 2010

"If you look at charters specifically, there's no evidence that the mere designation of charters means much, as far as education," Berger said. "Those charters that do well have good teachers and good resources."

Weingarten of the AFT issues a familiar refrain regarding charter schools:

"(T)he issue is not whether we should have charter schools but do you have good ones and are they accountable like public schools. The issue we've seen—whereas 17 percent of charter schools do better than the public schools in the neighborhood—34 percent are doing worse than public schools in their neighborhoods. We want to level the playing field. We're not against charter schools, but accountability should be present."

Rural States

Another concern about Race to the Top deals with the question of whether the program takes into account the unique circumstances of rural states.

Armando Vilaseca, Vermont's commission of education, will say that "rural states have some different issues." But he doesn't feel Race to the Top is unfair. "I think when you are secretary of education and you look at this thing in a national perspective, that you need up looking at the large urban areas. And that makes sense," Vilaseca said.

Officials in Montana aren't so sure.

"In Montana we have so many small school communities that the notion of introducing a charter school on top of that really doesn't make any sense," said Madalyn Quinlan, chief of staff in Montana's Department of Public Instruction. "Even in our urban areas, our largest school district has 15,000 kids. It just doesn’t seem to make sense in Montana."

Quinlan, who says state officials could decide to not even submit an application, wonders how rural states can remove poor-performing teachers or potentially close down problem schools. "There isn't a whole new group of teachers ready to move in. That's not the situation in Montana. We're working to build capacity."

How do you improve struggling schools? Gamoran, the education consultant, sees this as the toughest of the four assurances for the states to handle. "We do not know the answer to how to turn around low performing schools. Of the four priorities, by far the hardest one is turning around chronically low-performing schools. If this were easy we would already be doing it."

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