A Disappointing Race to the Top
Interesting that The New York Times and The Washington Post have not commented on this editorially.
The Obama Administration yesterday awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in education grants to only two states, which we're glad to say made good on its promise to set a high bar for its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition. Less reassuring are the reasons the Administration chose Delaware and Tennessee, as opposed to other worthy states.
In a conference call with reporters, Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the winning states, first and foremost, for getting local unions and school boards to approve their applications. "Both of them have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools," said Mr. Duncan, even noting that Delaware "has the full support of the teachers union."
After announcing the Race to the Top contest last summer, the Administration said repeatedly that it would reward states that encourage the creation and expansion of charter schools. So it's disappointing that charters weren't even mentioned in Mr. Duncan's prepared statement and that the two winning states have some of the country's weaker charter laws.
States that refuse to cross the teachers unions are unlikely to produce significant education reforms for the simple fact that collective bargaining contracts are the biggest barrier to change. It's not surprising that unions and school boards opposed Race to the Top applications in places like Florida and Louisiana. The reforms being pushed in those statesÃ¢€”teacher accountability, school choiceÃ¢€”are transformative. By giving unions and school boards such a huge sway over grant money, the Administration is saying that union buy-in matters as much or more than the nature of the reforms.
The Administration has also left itself open to the charge that Race to the Top has been politicized. More than one commentator has speculated that President Obama wants to win support from a pair of Republicans, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Congressman Mike Castle of Delaware, both of whom will play key roles in the effort to rewrite No Child Left Behind. We hope this didn't figure in the grants, and at least the White House resisted spreading the money to more states, which would have meant a race to the middle.
The good news for states that didn't win is that a second round of grants is forthcoming in September. The bad news for reformers is that the National Education Association will now be raising the price of its "statewide buy-in."
Wall Street Journal
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES