Saturday, January 23, 2010

Could “Race to the Top” Be the Next Four-Letter Word after NCLB?

Just this week, there were states who announced with great fanfare their submission of an application for the latest education program to come out of Washington, “Race to the Top.” If you notice, the fanfare and elation is mostly coming from politicians. There’s just not much coming from us school level educators, except maybe some suspicion and extreme caution. I myself have twittered my fingers off about the subject as have several others. The reality of this whole situation is, those of us who work in the schools just don’t trust much coming out of Washington these days. We have been subjected to No Child Left Behind for the past eight years or so, so naturally, we just aren’t going to embrace the next thing coming from the US Department of Education without a great deal of trepidation. Let’s face it, our politicians are staring at those gaping holes in their budgets, and I have a feeling most would sell out their own mothers to find a way fill those just so they do not have to think about raising taxes. This makes them cheerleaders for anything that will keep them from raising taxes and/or cutting services that their constituents see as important.

The reality of “Race to the Top” is simply this, it is still a figurative “four-letter” word to most of us in-the-school educators until some of those gaping holes in its language are filled in. NCLB was passed and promoted, and maybe educators were just a bit more trusting then, so we were more accepting of the spaces between the lines. Now that we have been “No-child-left-behinded” on for eight years, we can no longer just accept that “it’s good for us” when Secretary Duncan proclaims it so, or when President Obama boasts about it changing the face of education. I am sorry, we just don’t trust you anymore, and that goes for anyone from Washington when they speak of reforming education.

You know, you would think that the Obama Administration and Secretary Duncan would learn something from the health-care fiasco they as an administration are enduring. That battle was not lost because they just couldn’t convince enough lawmakers. It was lost because they just did not go to the people to whom the law was going to have the most effect, and make their case to them. I know they tried with those Town-hall meetings that turned into screaming matches, but the people who attended those meetings already had their minds made up. Someone had already got down to the grassroots level and convinced them that healthcare reform of any kind was bad for them. Well, if Secretary Duncan and President Obama really want any reform effort to work, they are going to have come down to our schools and make their case for “Race to the Top.” They need to speak to all of us who are in the schools everyday and allow us to contribute to their policy. I don’t know about you, but not once has a US Department of Education official asked me about the policies under “Race to the Top” or anything else I thought might improve our schools, nor do I know anyone in any schools around me who have been asked. (Not that I think myself that important. I use that sentence figuratively.) The history of education establishment describes one after another of these federal-top-down reform attempts and none have had a lasting effect. Our schools are still structured like they were a hundred years ago. Four years or eight years from now we will still be staring at the same problems in our schools because the Obama Administration and Secretary Duncan have not lifted a finger to win over those of us who work everyday with kids in our schools.

The reality of reform is that it is going to begin within our schools when our leaders give us reform we can believe in. Right now, I have read all of the “Race to the Top” propaganda on the US Department of Education web site, and I am sorry, I just am not convinced that this policy is going to anything but destroy what little morale that is left in the schools around the United States. It will continue in accelerate  this country’s obsession with testing being the ultimate answer. It will attach so many strings to this money that most of us administrators will have several more piles of paperwork to complete just so that the US Department of Education can make sure we are not spending it in a way they deem inappropriate.

The reality of “Race to the Top” is this: it is a four-letter word spelled with more than four letters, at least it is until many questions are answered.

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