Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan were on the road at a high school in Wilmington, Del., this week to celebrate the anniversary of the first Race to the Top awards.
“We were able to help jump-start some of the farthest reaching education reforms in history,” Biden said at Monday’s event. “All across the country, Race to the Top is inspiring the same kind of change we’re seeing here in Delaware.”
The vice president is right about at least one thing: The reforms were far-reaching. Delaware received $100 million in federal funding through Race to the Top — and the state applied those funds to institutions like Howard High, a school in downtown Wilmington with 860 students — 60 percent of whom are low-income. Thanks to Race to the Top, Howard has a new principal and a few new plans for the future. Eventually — or so the theory goes — those new plans will produce real changes.
But in return, Delaware ceded local control. Just to be competitive in the Race to the Top application process, states had to agree to adopt Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts — before the standards had even been crafted. Delaware was no exception, agreeing to adopt the standards in its initial Race to the Top application and officially adopting the completed standards in August of last year.
Common standards might sound sensible — suggesting a certain nationwide understanding of what constitutes an effective education — but they belie the truth that not all kids are alike. And because common standards almost necessarily lead to common assessments and common curricula, they also constrain teachers and parents, who surrender their educational say to distant, unelected bureaucrats.
That’s why what Biden calls “far-reaching,” fifth-grade teacher Kasey Brzycki might call an “overreach.” Brzycki spoke to Heritage about the dangers of national standards for a video on Washington’s education overreach.
At this week’s celebration, Duncan put it this way: “Nearly one year ago, Delaware won a Race to the Top award because it submitted an application that promised to reach into every corner of the state.”
That’s not necessarily a good thing if it means giving up local control that is vital to education reform.