"Race To The Top" - Education Reform Or Bribery?

By CAMILLE GIGLIO, Legislative Analyst

January 19, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - "It's time to stop just talking about education reform and start actually doing it. It's time to make education America's national mission." - President Barack Obama, November 4, 2009

With the coming of a new administration the G.W. Bush education reforms [the promotion of national educational standards - No Child Left Behind] are now history.

In their stead, "Race to The Top," is the current catch phrase for the legislation supporting the Obama administration's nationwide educational goals. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 [ARRA] provides about $100 billion for education K-12.

California's budget is in the red, its schools are being closed and teacher's jobs are being eliminated and the Governor has gone to Washington to plead the case for an infusion of federal funding.

California, New York and Florida [Texas, originally slated to participate, has withdrawn from the program, concerned over it's invasive nature] are now leading all states in the race to receive$350-700 million of the $4.5 billion available to these states in the federal Race To The Top K-12 program. [source, ContraCosta Times, http://www.caracetothetop.org/cs/rttt/print/htdocs/intent.htm]

Apparently it all hinges on the ability of these states to prove to the feds that they willchange and reform the their educational programs, models and testing standards toalign them with the Obama agenda.

Taking advantage of the current cash strapped economy, the Obama administration has succeeded indangling billions of our tax dollars in front of state and private sector businesses, in essence bribing them to submit to federal management of local employment and educational matters.

While these programs may have some ameliorative effect in the immediate future, the administration and it's communitarian supporters don't merely want immediate relief, additionally they seek permanent change bringing about greater federal oversight of the focus and outcome of education and job programs.

They plan to gain that power by taking over control of education. To firmly establish their communitarian goals they must gain control of input into the minds of children and out-of-work adults.

How do they get that control?

They pay for it, with our money of course. They can't however, just come in and throw money at the communities. They have to make it appear that school districts, governors and legislators and, moreimportantly, parents, are pleading for this money, competing for the privilege, if you will, to become dependent upon federal largesse to save the people.

While the RTTT's proponents make grand claims as to the benefits of reformingeducation they are still engaged in rounds of talks and meetings about what to include in the rules governing how states compete for these funds. Meantime some states are anxious to beamongst the first to show their willingness to conform to the federal offer.

California's Governor recently signed Democrat legislator Gloria Romero's Race To The Top bill, SBx 45 [not too obvious there, Gloria] clears the way for the state's entry into the national competition for the federal tax dollars. Today 804 individual schools or County School Districts in California have applied for the RTTT funds. Of this number 104 are charter schools.

So much for local autonomy.

The bill includes accepting national core standards of education as well as an Open Enrollment policy. This Open Enrollment is designed with the lowereconomic child in mind, but would allow any student, dissatisfied with his/her education,to enroll in any school in the state offering a program even if that program is across thestate.

Senator Mark Wyland, [R-38, Carlsbad] co-authored this bill and a majority of Republicans voted for it. Unfortunately no one from the Wyland office was willing to speak on record as to what Mr. Wyland saw as so worthy of crossover support.

There are some things which we can state with certainty regarding the intendedpurpose of this reformation of education. Those who are working on setting thestandards represent a broad spectrum of community interests ranging from unionsand businesses to think tanks, community groups and social/behavioralorganizations and educators. Also, the fact that parts of these grants to states comeunder the federal economic-stimulus law enacted last year all point to reforming theschools to produce national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.Recently I had an opportunity to interview certain well placed members of the statelegislature on this subject. My question was why were the Republicans so anxious tosupport this obviously Democrat agenda bill?

We prefer to think of it as the ability to bring much needed change to education inCalifornia, was the response that I got.

This implies that no one currently working in California's educational industry is capable of correcting its deficiencies. Not surprisingly, no one at the federal level has even gone to the trouble of providing an in-depth explanation of what they feel is wrong with California's schools.

When I posed the question of what was really meant by Open Enrollment I got somestrange answers. If fourth grade student A is not thriving (pardon me Kaiser Hospitals) inschool A, but might have a better chance in school B which is three counties away, doesthat mean that boarding schools will be created for distance learners? Or will this student stay home and get his or her education over the computer? Or, will they be assigned amentor who is, in reality a Home Visitation worker? If student A comes from a poor familywill the state pay for that child's room and board ?

Sources in the Sacramento are rather cavalier about that possibility. With a shrug of the shoulders it was explained that parents will have to make those arrangements if that is the option they choose.

The question to be asked now is who will actually benefit? Is it the child who is valued or is it their productivity? The vast majority of articles I have read on thissubject coldly refer to citizens as "human capital." By point of reference, here's the Wikipedia definition, "Human capital refers to the stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value. It is the attributes gained by a worker through education and experience. Many early economic theories refer to it simply asworkforce..."

In order for states to be eligible to apply for this funding they must achieve inphase 1, a total of 500 points, according to the "US Department of Education, November, 2009 Executive Summary of the Race To The Top Program."

A brief overview of some critical elements in the program:

If they fail to achieve these points they may try again in phase 11.

"A. State Success Factors - 125 Points," - demonstrating the state's willingness and ability to speed-up initiating change. I think that means ram-rodding through legislation.

"B. Standards and Assessments - 70 points," - developing and adopting common standards [of educational goals]. Further on in the summary this is defined as a "set of content standards that are substantially identical across all States in a consortium."

These are the exact words used by the aide in Sacramento. He referenced the term, consortium of states, which he thought might be 5 or 6 contiguous states without the reference to regionalizing education.

"C. Data Systems to Support Instruction - 47 points. This entails the collection of a broad spectrum of student and family information, placing this in an electronic data collection system and analyzing the data to further improve the delivery of education in the core programs of math, science, technology,and social/emotional development."

Sacramento has several of these bills on its docket.

"D. Great Teachers and Leaders. - 138 points," - This entails the re-training of teachers in all these fields to meet the national goals of student preparation. Several bills showed up in Sacramento during 2009 that mandated retraining of math and technology teachers.

An article which appeared in the 1/7 edition of the San Jose Mercury unveiled a new Obama initiative to train teachers. It seeks a public-private partnership to give Intel Corporation of Santa Clara $250 million to "train thousands of math and science teachers and raise student performance in technical fields... [which] is seen as key to the country's global competitiveness."

Excuse me? I thought we were talking about improving education for students?

"E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools - 50 points," - this reflects the goals created by a series of 7 federal pieces of legislation known collectively as the America Competes Act passed during the Bush administration and now being implemented under Obama. The lead bill is Harry Reid's S. 761, "Invest in Innovation and Education to Improve the Competitiveness of the United States in the Global Economy." H.R. 2272 by Bart Gordon of Tennessee urges creation of government employee involvement with students in the Science, Technology, environment and math.

Possible areas to address include, "...lengthening the school day or year if necessary as well asencouragement for an expanded program of after school activities which would provideassistance with homework or other social emotional needs."

"F. General Selection Criteria - 55 points. This makes education funding within the state a high priority, ensures successful inclusion of 'high-performing charter and other innovative schools'"

There is a final 15 points given for what they term a "Comprehensive Approach toEducation Reform."

So, there you have it - an offer that can't be refused - the states get an infusion of taxdollars, the feds get the schools and the students, the United States gets to compete fortop dog spot in the global economy and parents get to feel the pride in offering the future of their children up for the benefit of the state.

What's not to like?

©2010 Camille Giglio. All rights reserved.