January 19th, 2010

Race to the Top
The Race is On! - Pt.2

The deadline has arrived, and 40 states and D.C. are hoping to win a share of a 4.35 billion dollar pie that the Obama Administration is calling the “Race to the Top.”

It’s a massive gamble on Washington’s part, an effort to change state and local education policies by dangling the carrot of big dollars in front of states and school districts that are desperately trying to make ends meet. Washington wants more charter schools, merit pay for teachers, and plans for putting the best teachers in the worst schools.

In the weeks before the applications were due, we watched legislators and educators in Colorado, Maryland and other states planning their strategies. Some states changed laws just to qualify to compete, while others rewrote policies in hopes of increasing their chances of winning.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, some states will walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars, while others will be left without a cent.

Who will get some of the money? We look into the race preparations.

Download transcript (pdf)

This video is part of our series covering the Race to the Top. Watch all related videos and listen to more podcasts here.

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Yes, providing for public education is a state responsibility and the state has broad discretion to set the terms. But the federal government can under our Constitution use its taxing and spending power to exercise reasonable regulation over the expenditure of any federal funds the state chooses to accept. If the state finds the federal conditions unacceptable it can forego the funds. (Experience shows that states will not reject funds). It has been clear since the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education that the federal government has both the authority and responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity for students and to strike down the remnanants of discrimination. And it is time for thoughtful commentators to stop mouthing platitudes arguing that the federal government is powerless to use a program like Race to the Top to secure real educational improvement for students who need it the most.

Here is my view from the position of a teacher in a high profile turnaround school. More school funding from the federal level is very helpful in reforming schools, but some of the requirements in getting it are too restrictive. My school, for example, which cannot be unique, has been forced to replace its second year “turnaround” principal and majority of the already overhauled staff, just as we are about to see the positive results of significant reform efforts in order to be eligible for the stimulus funds. The saddest part is that the children are losing most of the adult relationships they have built. It is hard to see how the reshuffling of teachers within the district will yield a net gain. I cannot fathom a harder working administration than the outgoing one. While not perfect, and having much work yet to be done, I think they deserved to remain. Furthermore, many fine new teachers who worked so hard have been let go so that the new principals can bring in their own people, and this drains/destabilizes other schools. All the news of the mass firings came mid-school year which was a gross distraction from the work at hand and a disincentive, knowing that our reform efforts would not likely continue beyond June. I can only hope that the bigger picture shows a positive result and that future efforts can place more trust in local decision making.

Did anyone else notice the misspelled word when Secretary Duncan was first shown? Then we wonder about our schools!

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