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NCLB Outrages

Duncan being too 'modest'

As usual, Valerie Strauss cuts to the core. Since the Feds are determined to have a contest, creating winners and losers, not all children who need help will get it. Plenty will be losers.

by Valerie Strauss

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was being too modest when he said in a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club that the Obama administration is playing a "modest role" in sparking a “quiet” revolution in education.

There is nothing modest about the administration’s role in driving reform, and there is nothing "quiet" about the change process, not in Washington or in state legislatures that rushed to change laws for a chance to win federal dollars.

The administration is Bigfoot, driving change with billions of dollars in the Race to the Top competition. In fact, Race to the Top, which started with $4.35 billion, is doling out the largest pot of discretionary federal education money ever. How's that for modest?

Duncan announced the finalists for Round 2 -- 18 states and the District of Columbia -- each of which will send teams to Washinton, D.C., in August to explain why they deserve to be on top.

(The finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.)

Duncan spoke about many things: assessments and teacher evaluation and teachers and principals who are "producing miracles in the classroom every day... [and] “are the heroes of the Quiet Revolution."

He said education was "the civil rights issue" of our generation. And he said:

"We have reached this stage of education reform after decades of trying, failing, succeeding and learning. We're building on what we know works -- and doesn't work -- and while there are still some honest policy disagreements among key stakeholders, there is far more consensus than people think."


The "Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn" released yesterday by a coalition of civil rights groups speaks directly to fundamental differences over education policy, including those over charter schools, teacher evaluation, and, perhaps most importantly, resource equity.

It said about the competitive nature of Race to the Top, the adminstration's chief education initiative to date:

"If education is a civil right, children in 'winning' states should not be the only ones who have the opportunity to learn in high-quality environments. Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965."

The Education Department sent me some facts after Duncan's speech today that speak to this issue. Here they are:

  • The 19 finalists for Race to the Top Round 2 alone enroll nearly two-thirds of all African American and Hispanic students in the United States. Put another way, this 37 percent of US states (including D.C.) enroll 63 percent of our African American and Hispanic students.

  • The 21 states (19 finalists plus Tennessee and Delaware, which won Race funding in the first round] have 5.4 million black students and 6.5 million Hispanic students. This represents 66 percent of black students and 64 percent of Hispanic students nationwide.

  • Aggregated: 65 percent of the nation's minority students are in these 21 states.

  • So if all 19 finalists actually are eventually declared winners in the second round (which is not expected), then we'll only have to worry about the other 35 percent of minority students being left out of the funding spree. So much for equity.

    — Valerie Strauss
    Washington Post Answer Sheet blog


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