This week, the winners were announced. Out of the 40 states that applied for the ‘Race to the Top’ funds, only two, Delaware and Tennessee get to split an estimated $600 million. But when did these two states become the models of educational innovation?
If you recall, Race to the Top is the $3.4 billion dollar pot of federal money that President Obama set aside in the last stimulus package to give to states to support educational reform. As a result, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, set up a competition for the funds, giving states strict criteria and evaluation measures for demonstrating how they will improve educational performance.
Well, with the rejection of even California, a poster boy for Obama’s education policy, protests are mounting. Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado who just a couple of weeks ago came to a meeting of governors to praise Caesar, I mean Duncan, now condemns him, stating that he felt like the Race to the Top competition was the equivalent of the Olympics, with a Soviet judge from the 1990s calling the shots on if the Americans win or not. Not just Ritter, but other governors from Arizona to Nebraska to South Carolina have questioned whether they will even apply again for the funds, citing the labor intensive nature of the application, and the drain on resources. There is even coordination of outright protests in Washington, DC against the Race to the Top initiatives, similar to what we witnessed with the resistance to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind in 2002.
The politics are always there as well. Delaware won (also the home state of Vice President Joe “huge f—kin’ deal” Biden) because it’s not a model of innovation but because it has the most aggressive approach of tying teacher tenure to students test performance, a controversial issue with big teacher unions like the American Federation of Teachers. Further, with midterm elections looming, hoarding money from 38 states in a “wait and see” mode helps to safeguard against any loss of Democrat seats in congress.
To foster competition for federal education funds at a time when states are struggling to make payroll for public school teachers or to even pay for school buses for students in poor districts is totally counterproductive and short changes young people.
State education departments need to be held accountable for student performance, true. But true accountability can only emerge when states receive the funds they need to educate young people and not before it.