The National Journal question of the week was, “Are Race to the Top Criteria Fair?”  More specifically, “states that prohibit linking student achievement data to teacher and principal evaluation will not be eligible to apply. Is this fair?”  The short answer is yes!

Thank goodness that Jon Schnur had the foresight to sneak RTT into ARRA.  Otherwise, we’d be in an ugly and unproductive reauthorization battle that would make health care look tame.

RTT gives Duncan a preauthorization blast of capital aligned with an aggressive reform agenda.  As I noted last week on HuffPost, RTT will feed the rabbits (the states ready to move) and won’t be held back by the rebel, laggard, and the complacent states.

Two of the difficult 19 grant criteria include fully implementing the Data Quality Campaign elements and using “differentiating teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance.”  It’s a game changing and long overdue requirement.

After 15 years in business, I was shocked in my first year as superintendent in Washington State to find that we were flying blind—almost no performance data and none linking individual performance to outcomes.  In the retail business I came from we knew sales by store by item the next day.

This grant criteria makes good sense.  It’s essential to create quality at scale.  It’s not a difficult technical requirement, it’s just something the unions have successfully avoided for several decades.  RTT will allow a handful of states to show the way by linking data to placement, evaluation, professional development, compensation.  We’ll be able to improve schools and the equitable distribution of teachers.  Good teachers will earn more money.  And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll learn a great deal about equity and excellence.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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