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States Race to the Top for Education Dollars

The author is President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to his official bio on the Chamber site, "Donohue has built the Chamber into a $200 million a year lobbying and political powerhouse with expanded influence across the globe. Donohue has committed to advancing the U.S. Chamber's comprehensive competitiveness agenda, which is designed to strengthen the U.S. economy so that all hardworking Americans can prosper and enjoy the benefits of the American Dream. . . . Under Donohue's leadership, the Chamber has also emerged as a major player in election politics, helping elect congressional pro-business candidates through financial support and voter activism and turnout generated through the Chamber's grassroots organization, VoteForBusiness.com."

Ever wonder why Arne Duncan doesn't answer your mail? Not to mention Pres. Obama?

By Tom Donohue

As the nation debates proposals that would dramatically reshape health care and energy policy, let's not forget that more than 55 million American students are returning to the classroom. Many of these students are attending subpar schools, leaving them well behind their international peers.

We've all heard the alarming statistics: Nearly a third of all high school students--and half of minority students--do not graduate in four years. Those who do go to college are often in need of remedial courses. American students ranked 22nd out of 26 in math, 19th out of 26 in science, and 15th out of 29 in reading literacy in recent international assessments. This is a prescription for national decline.

However, the administration is applying some tried-and-true business practices and free enterprise principles to education that are so obviously lacking in most of their other proposals. And they are backing it up with some real money from the stimulus bill.

Specifically, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is using a $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) fund to bring greater accountability, higher standards, and innovation to American schools. RTTT grants will be awarded competitively to states based on progress in four areas: (1) adopting internationally recognized Kâ12 standards that will prepare students for higher education or the workforce, (2) measuring student achievement through better data collection, (3) developing and retaining first-class teachers and principals, and (4) enacting sweeping reforms in our lowest-performing schools.

The challenge for the Department of Education is to enforce compliance with these reforms in the face of likely political and interest group pressure. In the contest between student achievement and special interests, special interests have too often won.

The U.S. Chamber has long advocated that innovation, transparency, accountability, and higher standards can help restore excellence to our troubled schools. President Obama's and Secretary Duncan's approach to education reform is promising and worthy of our support. But it also bears close scrutiny. Resistance will be intense. Special interest pressure will mount. That's why the business community must be willing to provide political support to school reform efforts that we think can work. That's the case with Race to the Top, and we'll do everything we can to help it succeed.

The one thing that our school systems can't tolerate is the status quo. It's time to shake things up and make sure that our children have the skills necessary to seize the future.

— Tom Donohue
US Chamber Magzine


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