When Schools Get Caught in the Red Tape of Education Mandates

As cities and states across the country scramble to adopt the latest education-reform remedies, including the Common Core State Standards and new evaluation systems that are intended to hold educators accountable for the performance of their students, schools everywhere are reeling.

The mandates are driven by strong federal incentives, especially Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s competitive grant program. A dozen states received Race to the Top grants to adopt the new teacher-evaluation systems, and the program provided incentives for the 45 states that adopted the Common Core.

Either mandate alone would be a heavy lift, education experts say. A recent government study, “States Implementing Teacher and Principal Evaluation Systems Despite Challenges,” found numerous problems with how teacher evaluations are working on the ground. Among the concerns were “ensuring that principals conducted evaluations consistently.” The report, released in September, also cited the challenge states were having in “prioritizing evaluation reform amid multiple educational initiatives.”

In this story, “Schools caught in red tape generated by new education mandates” for Al Jazeera America, I explore the impact that mandates are having on public schools, including two high-performing schools—one in New York City and one in Massachusetts—that have thrived on grassroots improvement efforts. These two schools suggest that some of the best “education reform” is happening at the grassroots level. They also raise the question: Does education need more grand ideas (and mandates) or practical ways to disseminate and grow what’s already happening in pockets around the country?

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