Obama’s contradictions on education
Among the 10 organizations to which President Obama donated his Nobel Prize Award are the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the Appalachian Leadership and Education Foundation, the American Indian College Fund, and the Posse Foundation.
What do those groups -- each of which is receiving $125,000 of the total $1.4 million that he received -- have in common?
They all work to help underserved populations of young people get ready to attend and be successful in college.
Obama has said repeatedly that his education goal is to make sure that every child has a quality education and the opportunity to graduate from college -- and he displayed his commitment to that with his own award money.
Yet his education policies to this point cannot ever reach this goal. Nor can they do what he promised during the presidential campaign: Stop high-stakes standardized testing from driving our public education system.
His education secretary, Arne Duncan, has, in his $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition encouraged practices in school districts that were unsuccessful in No Child Left Behind in closing the achievement gap -- including a continued obsession with high-stakes standardized tests.
But equally obscene is the way the Race to the Top has been structured. It is, quite literally, a race, a contest among states to deliver an education reform proposal that Duncan likes.
Contests have winners and losers, but in this case, the losers aren’t adults who couldn’t answer a fifth grade science question correctly. In this competition, the losers are school children in states where the adults either did not know how to play Duncan’s game, or chose not to follow his rules.
The only way that poorly performing students will ever have a chance of doing better is if public schools are equitably funded. That means that they have the same resources, the same highly qualified teachers, as the best systems in the country.
A contest with winning and losing states is by its very definition unable to accomplish what is most needed.
On March 4 Duncan named the 16 finalists in the first found of Race to the Top. In a letter he sent to states, he said: "Every state that has applied is a winner — and the biggest winners of all are the students."
Actually, Mr. Secretary, that's not right. The kids are going to lose again.
Here is the text of a statement Duncan issued on March 4, the day the first round of finalists for Race to the Top funds were announced. There were 16 of them, but Duncan made it clear that only a few would be deemed worthy.
Read this, and then tell me how this language and this approach can help America’s schools.
Last July, I joined with President Obama to kick off the Race to the Top. This competition, which was funded through the Recovery Act with the support of Congress, put unprecedented resources — $4.35 billion dollars — on the table to reward states that are ready to dramatically re-shape America’s educational system.
We said from the beginning that we were going to set a very high bar in this competition, that we would only reward excellence, and that winning would require an all hands on deck approach to reform.
Since then, this historic program has been a catalyst for education reform across this country, prompting states to think deeply about how to improve the way we prepare our students for success in a competitive 21st century economy and workplace.
Forty states and the District of Columbia answered the challenge in Phase I. With their leadership, stakeholders across America sat down together, looked hard at what is and is not working, and developed bold and creative reform plans that give us great hope for the future of America.
Today I’m proud to announce that 16 applicants are advancing as finalists. The finalists are the following:
Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
These 16 applicants show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children. Each of the finalists scored over 400 points in a 500 point competition—and there was a natural break from the other 25 applicants.
Let me be very, very clear: these are not the winners of the competition. No money is being awarded today.
These 16 finalists are the best applications we received in Phase 1. Each one of them has a shot at winning, but most of them will go home as finalist s— not as winners. We will announce those winners in April.
I cannot say how many winners there will be but we are setting a high bar and we anticipate very few winners. It will be a function of the strength of the applications. I can assure everyone that there will be plenty of money left over. At most, we expect to award no more than $2 billion dollars in the first phase — and it could be considerably less.
But this isn’t just about the money. It’s about collaboration among all stakeholders — including administrators, educators, unions, parents and elected officials. It’s about building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve student learning.
That’s why every state that has applied is a winner — and the biggest winners of all are the students. Everyone who applied for Race to the Top is helping to chart the path forward for education reform in America.
I salute all of the finalists for their hard work. And I encourage non-finalists to reapply for Phase 2 in June — along with the states that did not apply in the first Phase and the finalists who ultimately do not win.
We will be giving all applicants their feedback and scores after the winners are announced in early April, and we will publish them on-line so the public can see how finalists and winners were selected. The applicants who weren’t selected as finalists today will be able to use this information to strengthen and improve their applications in Phase 2.
I very much appreciate that non-finalists will want to know their scores and read the comments from reviewers as soon as possible so that they can improve for Phase 2.
However, sharing the scoring information and comments in the middle of the competition could compromise the integrity of the process. Finalists should focus on their own applications, not analyze the scores and comments of others.
The fact that we are publishing reviewer comments and applications for all applicants represents a historic level of transparency. This competition is so intense and so important, that we want to go the extra mile and make sure everyone can see exactly how this works.
Going forward, we are very hopeful that there will be a Phase 3 competition. The President has proposed $1.35 billion in next year’s budget to continue Race to the Top and we look forward to working with Congress to make that happen.
The fact is — the demand for this funding far exceeds the supply. States and districts and other stakeholders clearly want reform. Our hope is that these bold blueprints for education reform from states all across America will all be implemented over time.
Race to the Top is a competition. Only the best proposals will win. We expect the winners to lead the way and to blaze the path for the future of school reform for years and even decades to come. They will make education reform America’s mission.
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| March 13, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top | Tags: Arne Duncan, No Child Left Behind, President Obama, Race to the Top
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