Thoughts on “Race to the Top”

I’ve been reading lately about the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” fund and have read a couple of blog posts about it. I thought I would post my response to a post on Seeking Shared Learning, as it sums up my thoughts on this new funding/mandate from the Secretary of Education. Feel free to comment.

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“It will certainly be interesting to hear your perspective as more details of these guidelines become clearer. I have yet to read all 80+ pages of the guidelines, so I can’t say I know everything about what is being proposed.

Even so, my wonder at all of this – dating back to ESEA – is the constitutionality of this sort of move. In my eyes, the whole thing seems shady at best.

As the government has no constitutional standing to make educational mandates (that being left to the states in the 10th Amendment), it seems that the federal government has found its loophole, along with a way to wholly influence the education system through federal funding. While initially it was a series of grants, once schools were accustomed to the money (and it had been factored into state budgets), conditions were attached. States and schools had two choices – accept the conditions and continue receiving the funding they had come to depend on, or refuse the conditions and turn down a massive amount of money that would benefit your school/district/state. The funding issue became a lose/lose situation for many districts.

As we’re seeing, this process only continues to intensify, through NCLB and now RTTT. Again states are left with a choice – accept the conditions/mandates attached to the billions of dollars in funding, or turn down billions of dollars in federal funding because they believe in the kind of education they are giving students. It seems to me that this is a hazy issue, and if this had different players and wasn’t about funding, I think we would consider it a despicable move (give someone a product for free, then once they’re hooked on it, slowly raise the price on the product), but that’s just opinion.

The more practical question is what effect this will have on our district’s curriculum efforts. If we believe that thinking skills and habits of mind and our outcomes and indicators are what education should really be about, does the RTTT “fund” really help us reach that goal? Does putting more emphasis on test scores – particularly as a way of rewarding/punishing teachers and principals – really help us teach students these skills?

My gut answer is no. I expect teachers and administrators would act like most creatures do. We would either pursue the reward of higher compensation by focusing students almost exclusively on test results, or we would act in self-preservation and try to keep our jobs by focusing entirely on test scores. In either case, it is the things Tahoma espouses – thinking skills, habits of mind, etc. – that would be sacrificed in the exchange.

Of course, I’m just a small fry in a vast ocean of educational politics, and could be completely dramatizing the situation. Even so, I wonder if, from an administrative perspective, you see this (RTTT) in the same way, or if you are envisioning greater benefits from this set of guidelines than I currently foresee.”

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