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Posted at 9:04 PM ET, 05/ 4/2010

Michigan high school wins Obama; five others get consolation prize

By Valerie Strauss

Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan is the big winner in a contest that offered as its prize a commencement speech by President Obama, but five other schools won't walk away empty-handed.

Obama himself picked the Kalamazoo school from three high schools that had won the most support in a contest that drew more than 170,000 on-line voters. The president spoke last week at the University of Michigan’s graduation ceremonies. Do you sense a Michigan theme?

There’s more: The White House has promised to dispatch a Cabinet secretary or other top administration official to deliver the commencement address at the other five finalists to mark their achievements. There’s no word from the schools about whether they want a consolation prize.

Obama had called for public schools to participate in his “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge,” asking them to submit applications -- complete with video and written essays -- that showed how dedicated the school community is to preparing students for college and a career. College and career readiness is one the president’s central education goals.

From more than 1,000 applications, six finalists were selected by the White House Domestic Policy Council and the Department of Education.

The other five finalists were:
* Blue Valley Northwest High School (Overland Park, Kansas)
* Clark Montessori Junior High and High School (Cincinnati, Ohio)
* Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, Colorado)
* Environmental Charter High School (Lawndale, California)
* MAST Academy (Miami, Florida)

Between April 25th-29th, the public was invited to view short videos and essays from the finalists and rank them, and the top three were then presented to Obama for final selection.

The video presented by Kalamazoo Center included data about how well students do, and highlighted the school’s diverse student population: 51 percent African-American, 39 percent white, and 10 percent Hispanic, Asian-American and Native American.

A student was shown reciting a poem while other students chanted, “We are the Giants,” and also showed basketball team members shouting out their grade point averages.

The school, which opened in 1858, has more than one prominent graduate: New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, as well as a former astronaut, James A. McDivitt.

The contest was the least egregious display of the administration’s penchant for competition in education. It has the same name as the $4 billion Race to the Top, in which states are trying to beat each other to win federal education funding to implement reform measures that the administration champions. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his aides selected Tennessee and Delaware in the first round of Race to the Top.

For those schools sorry Obama isn’t coming to speak at graduation, there is hope: The commencement speech contest will be repeated next year.


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 4, 2010; 9:04 PM ET
Categories:  High School, Race to the Top  | Tags:  Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo school wins contest, President Obama, Race to the Top, commencement speech and Obama, high school  
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Wow Valerie, the Post sure managed to quickly bury your blog piece that was critical Rhee.

Perhaps because it was a very well written with many facts to back up your concerns of Rhee's mismanagement and alienating leadership style.

I am not surprised since it was an honest and poignant assessment.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | May 4, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it is worthwhile to have some educational competition. I remember how important competition was for me as a student- from the Debate Team to basket ball to Odyssey of the Mind, they connected a wide variety of students. I could see how these steps would build school identity and allegiances, kids understand greater connections between their community and the national government. I think this is great.

Posted by: Brooklander | May 5, 2010 7:50 AM | Report abuse

Shame on Barack Obama for making this a competition.

Posted by: jlp19 | May 5, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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