Race to the Top in Education
Ohanian Comment: AGHHHH!
Here we have it: The Democratic Leadership Council, corporate power, and the Broad Foundation joining hands to destroy public education. Bill Gates must have taken the day off.
Don't dismiss this as right-wing propaganda typical of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. This trio is likely to be spewing their filth in the New York Times and the Washington Post any day soon.
If you doubt that the Democratic Leadership Council had already destroyed every shred of integrity that once rested in the Democratic Party, then be sure to note what Harold Ford, Jr. is doing these days. And remember, no group was a stronger supporter of NCLB than the Democratic Leadership Council. Take a look at this page. Click on a few of the articles--if you have the stomach for it.
And with Lou Gerstner joining the discussion, we come full circle from when he and Bill Clinton stumped for America 2000 for Pres. Bush the Elder. It contained many of the same elements as RTTT but lacked teeth. Pres. Clinton didn't get the national test he wanted but Obama is well on the way to achieving that goal. Without a whimper from our professional organizations. Members of the Executive Council of NCTE say they cooperated on the LEARN (sic) Act so as to keep a "seat at the table."
Now where have we heard this concern for sitting at a table laden with poison food before?
In the ugly piece below, this trio turn the three wise monkeys upside down, shouting pernicious and phony declarations about the beauty of competition. Look at the concern they express about the embarrassing achievement gaps between middle-class children and poor and minority children--at the same time failing to mention the devastating gap in money and the security of food, shelter, and family well-being that money brings, between middle-class children and poor and minority children. No mention of the gap between the $700,000+ average salary of a Goldman-Sachs worker and the 14 million US children living in families with income below the poverty level. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 41% of children live in low-income families.
The US has one of the highest poverty rates among industrialized nations, second only to Mexico.
I just read the manuscript of Ken Saltman's new book coming out early in 2010, The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy, which shows how vulture venture philanthropy, pushing the neo-liberal/corporate agenda, sets current ed policy. There are chapters on Gates and Broad. And here's something you may not have thought about: Big venture philanthropies are operating largely with our money. They get enormous tax breaks and then march off with our money to destroy public education.
After reading this statement in the news item below-- Competition brings out the best performance. That's true in athletics and in business, and it's true in education-- please go to a lovely description of what a real third grade teacher does.
By Harold E. Ford Jr., Louis V. Gerstner Jr., and Eli Broad
For decades, policy makers have talked about significantly improving public education. The problem has been clear: one-third of public school children fail to graduate, there are embarrassing achievement gaps between middle-class children and poor and minority children, and the gap between our students and those in other countries threatens to undermine our economic competitiveness. Yet for the better part of a quarter century, urgent calls for change have seldom translated into improved public schools.
Now, however, President Barack Obama has launched "Race to the Top," a competition that is parceling out $4.35 billion in new education funding to states that are committed to real reform. This program offers us an opportunity to finally move the ball forward.
To that end Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pushing states toward meaningful change. Mr. Duncan has even stumped for reform alongside former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Yet the administration must continue to hang tough on two critical issues: performance standards and competition.
Already the administration is being pressured to dilute the program's requirement that states adopt performance pay for teachers and to weaken its support for charter schools. If the president does not remain firm on standards, the whole endeavor will be just another example of great rhetoric and poor reform.
Competition among the states is also vital to reform. The administration is resisting the temptation to award funds to as many states as possible. And that's good. To be effective, Race to the Top funds cannot become a democratic handout. Competition brings out the best performance. That's true in athletics and in business, and it's true in education.
Race to the Top funds will not serve their purpose if they are awarded based on good intentions and promises. Instead, the administration is right to look at results. Has a state embraced rigorous standards? Has it welcomed charter schools? Has it turned around low-performing schools and held teachers accountable?
Grants from the National Institutes of Health are awarded to scientists who have advanced their research to a stage where there are promising returns. By setting a high qualifying bar and requiring a record of past performance, the president is instituting a similar system for allocating education dollars.
The first wave of education stimulus funding, allocated earlier this year, was intended to tide over states facing budget shortfalls. This next tranche of dollars have a different purpose—to be a stimulus for positive change.
If the administration were to simply spread the funds around, Race to the Top would end up supporting incremental, not transformational, change. The time is right for bold, comprehensive reform--even if only in a handful of states. This is why it is important to consider a state's record. Is the governor a true change agent, someone who is willing to withstand pressure in order to implement difficult reforms? If so, it may be right to award funding to his state.
The old way of doing business would be to spread around the money so no one could be held accountable. The new approach is to give governors authority and responsibility, and then hold them accountable for results.
For decades, adult interests have been at the forefront of public education. Reform has been derailed by adults who wanted to protect the status quo and enjoy lifelong benefits. This time the focus will be on learning in the classroom. What's important is that the administration is demanding that every child receive an education that prepares him or her for college or for work. Without that we will continue to be sidetracked by insignificant issues.
States that have the track record and leadership in place to implement Mr. Obama's aggressive reform menu—of enforcing rigorous academic standards, creating data systems that track individual student performance, ensuring teacher quality and effectiveness, and turning around failing schools—deserve the funds to show that our public schools can again lead the world.
We have yet to prove, on a systemic basis, that we can dramatically improve America's public schools. Race to the Top is a chance to start small, hold states accountable, and expand proven reforms to the rest of the country.
Mr. Ford is chairman of the Democratic National Leadership Council. Mr. Gerstner is former chairman of IBM and former chairman of the Teaching Commission. Mr. Broad is founder of The Broad Foundations.
Harold E. Ford Jr., Louis V. Gerstner Jr., and Eli Broad
Wall Street Journal