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Posted at 12:31 PM ET, 07/ 6/2010

Senators' logic for fighting cuts to Race to Top flawed

By Valerie Strauss

There is some confused reasoning in a letter that 13 U.S. senators wrote to oppose proposed cuts to three of President Obama’s education programs.

The letter was written by a group of senators, led by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) about legislation approved in the House that includes $10 billion to help save the jobs of thousands of teachers and other state employees threatened with layoffs.

The senators -- 12 Democrats and an Independent -- say that they support the principle of keeping teachers in classrooms, but they object to the way the bill’s sponsor, Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin) proposes to pay for some of it: by cutting $800 billion from Obama’s programs.

That includes $500 million from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, $200 million from the teacher incentive fund, and $100 million from the charter schools program.

One could argue that a president deserves full funding for his signature education initiatives, certainly from legislators who are members of his own party. But the argument that was made in this letter is flawed. The letter, written to Rep. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, says that:

*The targeted programs are “vital” and have driven “state- and local-level improvements for students across the country.”

*Race to the Top “has given education stakeholders the leverage they need to reform systems and policies that for too long failed too many students.”

*Cutting the funds as Obey’s bill proposes would be “pulling the rug out from under the efforts of thousands of communities around the country working together to improve their schools.”

Well, not really, no, and not actually.

Race to the Top is a contest in which states compete for federal grant money by promising to take reform measures that are favored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

For one thing, there is no research behind some of the initiatives that win points for states on their application. Expanding the number of charter schools is just one.

For another, researchers have determined that the 500-point system created to decide “the best proposals” for reform was created arbitrarily.

No state was guaranteed that it would receive money, and Duncan made it clear that not every state would be successful. In the first round of the contest two states, Tennessee and Delaware, won money, and applicants in the second round await Duncan’s decisions, knowing that their effort may result in not even a dime.

If the money is taken away now, there would still be $3.2 billion left, or $2.9 billion if $350 million planned for a state assessment grant competition goes ahead.

It is true that lawmakers in a number of states were lured by Race to the Top money to pass legislation that complied with contest criteria. It was the money that was the draw, not exactly a great foundation for real reform. Given that there is no solid research behind Race to the Top proposals, it is presumptuous to say that the money will actually improve schools. Reform doesn’t guarantee improvement.

As for charter schools, Obey’s office says that cuts to that fund will still leave more than twice the amount needed to cover existing grants. And it said that the teacher incentive fund would still have $400 million left for new grants.

It would be useful to remember that there is nothing scientifically sacrosanct about the amount of money initially deposited in these funds. And it would be useful if policymakers would look back nearly a decade ago, when they approved No Child Left Behind, certain that all of the changes that it forced upon public school systems were the best way to fix ailing schools and close the achievement gap. If they had been correct, legislators wouldn’t be in such a panic to fix public schools today.

It has unfortunately not dawned on many of them that Duncan is adopting some of the same damaging approaches that doomed No Child Left Behind, including a reliance on high-stakes standardized tests.

When exactly will Congress learn from its mistakes?

You can read the Bayh letter here.


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By Valerie Strauss  | July 6, 2010; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top  | Tags:  bayh letter, cutting race to the top, duncan and race to the top, legislation and teachers, legislation to save teachers jobs, obey and education bill, obey and teachers, race to the top and second round, race to the top and winners, race to the top applications, race to the top criteria  
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Comments

"It is true that lawmakers in a number of states were lured by Race to the Top money to pass legislation that complied with contest criteria. It was the money that was the draw, not exactly a great foundation for real reform. Given that there is no solid research behind Race to the Top proposals, it is presumptuous to say that the money will actually improve schools. Reform doesn’t guarantee improvement."

Exactly! RTTT is essentially a bride to get states to adopt programs that would not be adopted on their merits. But I beg to differ on one point; there is reseach opn many of the RTTT programs, but it indicates that the proposals either have negative impacts on student learning or no impact at all. In essence, RTTT diverts money that could be used to fund real improvements (as opposed to mere "reform," whatever that means) in favor of programs that are untested at best, or negatively effective at worst.

Posted by: mcstowy | July 6, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The problem in education is Title 1 public schools.

The politicians pretends that public charter schools are the answer.

Based upon this approach than the politicians should simply turn all Title 1 public schools into public charter schools.

The politicians knows that if it did this the only difference would be that we all agree that the problem in education is now the public charter schools.

Can we all admit that parents who also happen to be voters want a chance to send their children to a public charter simply because anything is better than sending their children to the Title 1 public schools.

Given the nature of politicians in this country it is no surprise that they favor public charter schools instead of thinking in terms of real changes to fix the Title 1 public schools.

Every dollar spent on public charter schools automatically brings in voters while spending money to change Title 1 public schools will not bring in voters unless the change is effective and this might take years to know.

One tires about the nonsense of Race To The Top which offers no new ideas of fixing the problems in Title 1 public schools. In reality the number of states that have applied for it simply indicates how desperate states are for money.

One has to laugh at this President and his 4 billion dollar Race To The Top program when the cost to the United States for two years of Afghan policeman will be 28 billion dollars.

Ultimately the money spent upon Race To The Top will be just as effective as the money spent on Afghan policemen.

Remember the old rule of politicians in regard to spending money. The money spent does not have to be effective, it simply has to appear so until you are no longer running for office.
........................
Washington Post
Pay increase for Afghan troops boosts interest
"An Afghan soldier costs about $25,000 a year to train, equip and maintain,..."
The 28 billion figure is only for Afghan policemen and does not cover the cost to the United States for two years of Afghan soldiers.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 6, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools already face a disadvantage financially because most states don't provide facility funds, and the recent Ball State study found a $2,247 funding gap for public charter schools compared to district schools. Slashing $100 million from charter schools will result in fewer schools opening. This Obey initiative is intended to maintain the status quo for the teacher's union and undermine the reforms that show results: charter schools and pay for performance.

Posted by: sunshine71 | July 6, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Congress doesn't appear to know anything about education and every time they try to do something to "improve" things they get caught up in the latest fad. Don't expect much.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 6, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

RTTT is about giving education dollars to business, not about improving education. And that's why the politicians are supporting it.

Posted by: aby1 | July 6, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Every time it is mentioned that RTTT has been created as a contest in which educators have to contend to receive funding, I feel: incredulous, wrathful, horrified, indignant, furious, stupified.....

Then, when I gather my wits again, I can't help wondering how we would all feel if the generals in the military had to have a "contest" in which to get their funds so they could buy the best guns and other military equipment for their "team" fighting in Afghanistan. I guess the other guys wouldn't get the good stuff......

To keep up the analogy vis-a-vis this article, I guess the Senators wouldn't be interested in retaining enough troups to do the job, just keep the contest going?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | July 6, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Every time it is mentioned that RTTT has been created as a contest in which educators have to contend to receive funding, I feel: incredulous, wrathful, horrified, indignant, furious, stupified.....

Then, when I gather my wits again, I can't help wondering how we would all feel if the generals in the military had to have a "contest" in which to get their funds so they could buy the best guns and other military equipment for their "team" fighting in Afghanistan. I guess the other guys wouldn't get the good stuff......

To keep up the analogy vis-a-vis this article, I guess the Senators wouldn't be interested in retaining enough troups to do the job, just keep the contest going?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large
...................................
In 2009 it would have seemed impossible for the Democrats to come up with policies as destructive to education as No Child Left Behind.

One is continuously surprised by politicians.

Posted by: bsallamack | July 6, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Valerie - another home run. Please do whatever you can to see that this is widely distributed on Capitol Hill.

As for the contest aspect of RttT, what can you expect from a Secretary of education who was a pro basketball player?

Pretty sad for the kids, though.

Education is not a sporting event, though I suppose it's entertaining for Duncan to see it that way. Like Caesar at the coliseum

I wonder how many of the people at DOE really believe in RttT, but are instead just going through the motions because it's part of their jobs.

A lot, I hope.

Posted by: efavorite | July 6, 2010 11:11 PM | Report abuse

I am from Indiana, and I am a Democrat. My entire education was in Indiana schools, from grade school through college. I really have a bone to pick with Evan when it comes to his theories about public schools. Where was Evan educated as a kid? St. Albans Academy, not your average public school. I'm not sure where Evan is residing now, but I'm guessing his twin 15 year olds are not going to school in the public school system anywhere. considering the wealth of the family. So why is this lame duck leading a parade against the proposals of David Obey? We have some lousy politicians in Indiana, in both parties, who are pawns of the corporations and who do their bidding, even where education is concerned. Bayh is certainly among the worst.

Posted by: rtinindiana | July 7, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

"Talk of the Nation" had a program last night that interviewed superintendents in smaller districts in Wisconsin. The teacher cuts are going to cause great problems nationwide. People don't want to hear it because of the bad economy, but one has to wonder about any sort of reform when the classes will be so big.

Posted by: celestun100 | July 7, 2010 4:36 AM | Report abuse

And let us not kid ourselves how difficult it will be to teach in some schools if class sizes become much larger; those of us raised in the 50s or early 60s will remember that in most schools, particularly Catholic schools with clases of 50 or more, teachers or nuns often had to maintain order by physical punishment. The slap of a ruller on an open palm or paddling was a primary means of discipline.
I am not by any means a proponent of physical punishment, but if class sizes are increased, we are likely to hear older politicians say things about how great school was in the good old days and how teachers had no problem keeping large classes in line.......
.....to go even further back in our history, I read of a teacher in a one-room school house during the late 1700s who would "go to work every morning with his fiddle and shotgun, and threaten to shoot anyone who didn't behave."
If we don't want things to regress with behavior management, it is important to keep class sizes down.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | July 7, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

rtinindiana - please write directly to Bayh - call his office too and ask all your voting friends in Indiana to do the same.

Posted by: efavorite | July 7, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

"It was the money that was the draw, not exactly a great foundation for real reform."

This is rich. When moneyed, organized interests get the legislation they want from state governments, no problem. When the federal government acts as a counterbalance by giving state legislators competing incentives, well, that's just not right because they're only doing it for the money. Got it.

Posted by: Jessedavidam | July 7, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

As almost always, political positions depend on "whose ox is being gored" not what is best for America as a whole. In this case Congress needs to think about the needs of all children in public schools and their teachers whose jobs will be lost. Forget the "pie in the sky" that Arne Duncan promises to the few states that will acquiesce to his demands, and save our public schools!

Posted by: joney | July 7, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

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