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  • An Avalanche of Reform?

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan

    Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 19 finalists for the final phase of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) competition on Tuesday. The finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

    In his speech, Duncan called the reform movement a “quiet revolution” and said the program “has unleashed an avalanche of pent-up education-reform activity.” Duncan is absolutely right that this is a “quiet revolution,” because it has been a completely opaque process. Many Members of Congress, as well as local school boards and parents, have been shut out of the national standards push. The Administration is using a carrot-and-stick approach to get states to adopt its reforms, circumventing Congress and preventing real debate and discussion from reaching the American people.

    But Duncan is wrong that an avalanche of pent-up education-reform activity has been unleashed. The states that adopted national standards did so in order to receive a piece of the $4.35 billion pie in a time of fiscal uncertainty.

    It’s interesting to take a step back and examine the states that have and have not adopted common standards. Such an examination leads to some interesting conclusions about the so-called avalanche of reforms.

    First, the average RTTT score for phase 2 finalists increased by an average of 26 points from the first phase. It is worth noting that states receive 20 points for “supporting the transition” to adopting standards in the RTTT point system (70 points overall for their adoption). The winners of the first phase, Delaware and Tennessee, have not yet adopted national standards. In addition, all of the finalists except Colorado and California have adopted national standards. It will be interesting to see if these states adopt national standards in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the final winners.
    So it’s a catch-22 for the Administration. President Obama is unlikely to rescind RTTT awards for states that refuse to adopt the standards, because doing so would admit the federal government’s role in their adoption.

    Adoption of national standards by states appears to be only an attempt to gain federal grants—not real reform. But in taking Washington’s money, are states sacrificing their educational autonomy for short-term budgetary security? The 30 governors will soon find out.

    James Hall is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to An Avalanche of Reform?

    1. Brandon Stewart Brandon says:

      Don't post.

    2. Brandon Stewart Brandon says:


    3. Brandon Stewart Brandon says:


    4. Scott, DC says:

      Actually Tennessee adopted the standards July 30

    5. Pingback: Should the Race to the Top Even Get out of the Blocks? - The Central Illinois 9/12 Project

    6. Roseanne, Sunrise says:

      As a parent, I am very afraid that we will become a nation of robots with these standards. In Florida, the teachers already teach to the standard state-wide test in lieu of recess, PE, art, or music. This is a nightmare that should unite conservatives and progressives. I voted for Obama and consider myself to be very liberal. I now see that this is just an extension of Bush's No Child Left Behind nightmare. I hope the Heritage Foundation will do everything in it's power to publicize this issue to as many people as possible.

    7. Norm, Arkansas says:

      The best way to improve education would be to close the Department of Education initiated under President Carter in 1979. There is no constitutional basis for it existence. It does not really act in the public interest nor does it promote the general welfare. It is an $86 billion boondoggle.

      Some brave Americans have tried to implement education reform but the reform process itself has been hijacked by the status quo.

      Universities, states and third party testing companies collaborate to limit the potential and opportunities for countless American educators.

    8. Keith, WA says:

      While testing of state outcomes based on that state's adopted curriculum standards test is reasonable, doing so risks shoving aside time for the enhanced and enriched curriculum that all smart and dedicated teachers can chose to teach. In practice, exceptional teachers find the means to teach an enriched curriculum by using the essential skills and knowledge (minimums) their state expects. Developing national standards I believe will diminish the rigor of those minimums even more. The wise teacher will be able to keep in view the enhanced and/or enriched skills and knowledge all exceptional teachers teach over and beyond the minimums. National standards will just make their job more difficult in the time they have.

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