School Controversy in Race to the Top


As California's financial hemorrhaging continues, some school districts are lining up for the possibility of an injection of federal stimulus money. It's all part of President Obama's Race to the Top program. That's the one that rewards schools for following the ambitious reforms put forth by the U.S. Department of Education.  

In Round 1, only two states out of 41 that applied were grantefgd federal money. Tennessee and Delaware split the cash which totaled about $600 million. California got shut out along with the other states that failed to meet the educational overhaul standards set by the feds.  Good news came Tuesday when the federal government announced that California still has a shot at about $700 million if they meet the standards of the Obama administration. Good news. Or is it?

In a state that's taking a bath daily in red ink, why would anyone turn down a big financial boost from the U.S. government?  Budgets are being slashed and the outlook isn't good. Wouldn't the money buy more school supplies and preserve teaching jobs? Not exactly. These reforms don't come without controversy.

First of all, as education historian Diane Ravitch points out, the money that states win can't be used to plug budget gaps. What? California schools are suffering from the frequent swing of the budget ax. Regardless, the money can only be used to meet the requirements of the federal government's mandate.

Then there's the process of teacher evaluations. They would be based greatly on student's test scores. Seems logical at first blush. But would a teacher who knows their livelihood is based on student scores not do whatever necessary to make sure grades are up? Maybe fudge a little bit? Would such a scenario lead to improved education or the illusion of progress? This isn't meant to call into question the integrity of our teachers. But when livelihood is on the line, how much will the desire for better grades supersede educational reality?

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has even conceded that the current tests being used are bad. Yet he wants to put the fate of teachers on inadequate tests?

Even though California's got its hat in the ring for a piece of this federal pie, the California Teachers Association had no part of the application process. CTA President David Sanchez doesn't believe it's the right time to push the Race to the Top agenda. "We believe education is a right, not a race," he says.

Uncle Sam is ready to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the educational systems of a few select states. If California wants some, it better appease the federal government in a big way. Even if the state does get its cut, the money coming in will only affect about one third (1.7 million) if its students. That's based on the number of school districts in the state that applied.

Like I said. These reforms don't come without controversy.


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