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  • Race to the Top, Or Race to the Middle?

    It appears that Race to the Top (RTTT)–the government’s latest attempt to dole out federal dollars for state education budgets–is turning into more of a wild goose chase. Politico reports:

    The idea seemed simple: Hold a contest for states to compete for billions in federal aid, right at a moment when school systems are battling budget problems. To win the funding, schools would have to convince Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s team that they were prepared to instill more teacher accountability and tougher standards to help students learn.

    But simple is rarely the case when the federal government gets involved.

    The first round of the competition awarded grants to just two states–Delaware and Tennessee–out of 41 applicants. And increasingly, more states are signaling that they may not submit applications for round two grants, which are due on June 1st. So far, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kansas, California, Indiana, Vermont, Wyoming, and South Dakota have indicated that they may not apply for RTTT grants in round two. This despite a written plea from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to governors in an attempt to convince more states to apply. In this April 21st letter to governors, Duncan wrote:

    I further recognize that the Department’s competitive initiatives like Race to the Top have taxed your limited staff resources, but I encourage you to apply in Phase 2. The June 1 deadline is rapidly approaching, and we have $3.4 billion left to award. This is a tremendous opportunity, and I encourage every State to apply.

    RTTT is clearly taxing school districts’ “limited staff resources,” as an April 27th letter from 13 state education superintendents and commissioners to Secretary Duncan illustrates:

    By forcing our already stretched state agencies to participate in such a rigorous competitive grant application, Race to the Top is detracting from the very real issues that need our attention, and actually takes away from the services our students and schools need and deserve.

    The burden of applying for RTTT is likely the reason, as Politico phrased it, that some states are “hitting a wall”.

    Race to the Top is hitting the wall. President Barack Obama’s $4.35 billion grant competition–designed to encourage states to dramatically improve school performance–is running into resistance across the country, as state officials and teachers unions are clashing with the administration over the contest rules.

    Some states are saying no because they fear an increase in federal red tape. Other states can’t get the necessary “stakeholders” to agree to their applications. In the first round of awards it became quite clear that states that received stakeholder agreement–i.e., union buy-in–to carry out the federal government’s goals for education were scored more favorably. The two winners, Delaware and Tennessee, received nearly full buy-in from teachers unions, as opposed to Florida–a reform-minded state that failed to garner significant union support.

    If Washington wants to see real education reform, the answer isn’t to tie states to the demands of the federal government. States need more freedom to apply reforms, such as the successful changes implemented in Florida. Instead of aiming for the top in educational achievement, RTTT is another distraction from the important reforms that could truly help students get ahead.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Race to the Top, Or Race to the Middle?

    1. Lewis, Seattle says:

      Good points but for the states that had little to no accountability, no state intervention authority in failing schools, no functioning data systems and less than stellar evaluation criteria, such as WA state, RTTT got our state legislature focused and made some key improvement just to be able to apply. WA did not even attempt to apply in round 1 because we would have been summarily rejected. The teacher's union still wields a lot of political power but it seems that they are finally starting to get on the reform train.

    2. Tom Nally, New Orlea says:

      This grant money that Arne Duncan is making available through competition…where does it come from? Was it bequeathed to the federal government from space aliens?

      How perverse that citizens have to compete for their own money.

      If we were merely taxed less, then more money would be available in the pockets of citizens — or perhaps their state legislators — to spend on education without have to commit resources to win it.

    3. Michelle, NJ says:

      The RTTT funding is tied to states adopting the as-yet unreleased common national standards. Requiring states to agree to adopt these unreleased standards is more than insulting to us, it is dangerous. It leaves the states, and more critically the parents and student, at the mercy of this unelected panel of individuals to impose a set of standards as they see fit, and subject to the political whims of the time. In effect, your child’s education will be nationalized.

      I have reviewed these draft standards in detail, and they are woefully inadequate to attain a desired goal – improving declining US performance in international comparative tests (see TIMMS). These draft standards, currently only in Math & English, have been developed by a board of members primarily from the testing community, a few professors, and no K-12 teachers or parents. The members of this panel are unelected, and unaccountable to We the People. The standards fail to resolve the increasing need for remedial freshman math in colleges, nor do they address the more rigorous needs of students wishing to pursue a degree in Science, Technology or Math.

      Having reviewed the standards of many other states, I can see how the draft national standards may be better, and to the parents in those states (mine included) I urge you to contact your state boards of education and improve your own standards. You are smart people, and you already know many of the areas where your standards fail to meet reasonable requirements. Do not trade your freedom, your right to build your district’s & state’s educational standards, for the temporary security of a little cash from the federal government. As Benjamin Franklin said, such an act will lose both freedom and security.

    4. Norma from Nebraska says:

      I was always told you do not receive something for nothing! And we know from the experience of the last year and a half that it is especially true when dealing with our current government.

      I will use one of President Obama's recent quotes (which was originally used by Ronald Reagan): trust BUT verify! One needs to dig deep to find out what the "true cost" of government help is going to cost. My suggestion would be that when you hear someone from the Department of Education say, "we are here to help you" you better run as fast as you can go in the other direction. You may get a few pieces of silver but you will be selling your soul to the devil . . . you may not be able deal with the long-term obligations involved. The devil is truly in the details!

    5. David from Utah says:

      Not only are we spending borrowed money in our schools. (AKA stimulus funds) Now we are competing for more borrowed money. And thanks to the process implemented by Mr. Duncan and the current administration, new terms are in place for schools across the land. Winners – Those who receive funds and Losers – Those who will comply with the new guidelines without the funds.

    6. Trish, New York says:

      The Race To The Top funding comes from the President "oops" budget. "Oops I need another 34 billion. It is a slippery slope to ask hard-working tax payers to fund yet another educational reform package that is not data driven. How can we expect positive change from unproven reform? The new rhetoric speaks highly of charter schools. Does the public realize that most charter schools have a selective application process that affords them the ability to admit the brightest students? Having taught in the NY public school system for years, my statistics would also be stellar. A "perfect" population is not indicative of most teaching environments. There are kids from broken, abusive homes, homes where little is done to encourage student's academic performance and attendance, students who are latch-key kids, students whose parents are drug addicted, students who are in danger of "aging-out" of foster care-need I continue? For years my heart breaks time and time again for these kids, and while some have excelled, others have not, proving there are many factors that influence the academic growth of these children. I am a dedicated professional; I hold two Masters degrees, I constantly challenge my students. but still some fail to achieve grade standard. Teachers are constantly vilified in the press, but where might the real problem lie? It starts at home! Now the government holds a carrot in front of us to "compete" for funds. It is a grave insult to those who will not get the money. If education is in such dire need for change, why make it a competition? Aren't all students worthy? Or is it that the feds don't really believe in their own program….

    7. Nile, Bethesda MD says:

      The article's title-Race to the Middle is completely accurate. I don't have a problem with the Fed's having the money vs the States having the money. I have the problem with the Fed's having control vs the States having control. The money decides how a states education system will operate. States are much smaller then the Federal system. They experience problems and solutions much faster then the Federal system operates. If education didn't change and what the biggest challenge to education was the need of better financial distribution, record keeping, and better bureaucracy, and constancy then the Feds might be a good place to control education. However, the purpose of education is to instill in people the ability to change and adapt to their surroundings quickly, and effectively. Education needs the freedom to do so. States are set-up to be able to experiment. Having 50 states allows for small laboratories to come up with new ideas, and also get rid of systems quickly that are failing. Each state has different ideas, different challenges, different people. Superior (and inferior) education can be more easily obtained by this ability to try new things. However, the Federal system works off of consensus-or finding the middle. If not, then someone must across the board decide what is "the top" and be right. Today, tomorrow, and for at least the next several years.

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