Senators' logic for fighting cuts to Race to Top flawed
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.
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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| 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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