Race to the Top — Of What?

RiShawn Biddle
The American Spectator
May 2010

… By structuring Race to the Top in the guise of a competition, Obama cleverly gets states on board with his formulas for school reform they would have otherwise resisted. Even if a state doesn’t get a dollar of federal funding, the competition is making it easier to start new charter schools, subject teachers to private sector-style performance management, and force districts to fix their schools. It also forces states to begin addressing the single biggest threat to their fiscal solvency: the $600 billion in unfunded teachers’ pensions and retirement obligations. Best of all, these steps cannot be easily overturned (unless the state wants to lose future federal funding). It also means that Obama isn’t accused of imposing unfunded mandates on state and local governments even if, in essence, that’s exactly what he is doing.

Obama is also applying this competition approach to his proposed revamp of No Child. States would compete for traditional federal school funding by proving that they embrace new college-preparatory reading, math, and science curriculum standards.

But aside from the much-needed shock value they provide, these changes aren’t likely to spur long-term reform. One reason why: Race to the Top emphasizes that states order districts to replace teaching staffs and principals at failing schools in a manner similar to corporate restructurings in the private sector. Theoretically, that should lead to improvement in school (and student) performance. But it only works if the new staff is better than its predecessor — and if the district itself isn’t one giant dropout factory. This is rarely so. Under No Child, just 11 percent of 968 California schools deemed as perpetually academic failures made “exemplary progress” in turning around performance; the Center on Education Policy concluded in a 2008 report that fewer than 14 percent of targeted schools were successfully revamped.

Shutting down failing schools and replacing them with a wide range of options — including private and parochial schools through school voucher programs — is the best solution. But Obama only goes half-way…

The entire article is at The American Spectator.

H/T Althouse

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