"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Duncan's Race to Reward the Lemmings

The more I hear about this Bribe to the Flop, the more it sounds like just what we finally need to help states develop the courage they need to tell Duncan to take his dirty money and go to hell with it. As Chad Matlin's commentary in Slate notes, most states will end up getting nothing, any way you slice it.

In making sure that the losers are many, Duncan will assure new levels of resistance to the other federalized corporate education reforms like a national curriculum and national tests that the Oligarchs are hoping to roll out. Who knows--this could help to re-energize a public school renewal movement based on local elected control, while winning new levels of antipathy toward any further corporate attempt at renewal of NCLB. Now that would be some change I could believe in.

A clip from "The Race to the Bottom:"

. . . .The states that win the Race to the Top grants will reinvest the money back into the schools to help fortify reform. There are two rounds of awards. Everyone is free to apply both times, and the losers in the first round will get advice on how to do better the next time. It’s unclear how many states will be the cream of the crop—some estimate a dozen—but we know that the winners will get money and a major financial boost. Everybody else, meanwhile, won’t have met the administration’s criteria. They’re left SOL and will have to figure out how to reform their systems without federal help.

And so the winner-loser paradigm segregates states into two classes: those that have reformed according to Obama’s ideals and those that haven’t (or at least haven’t enough). But rather than give catch-up money to the states that have fallen behind the administration is rewarding those that have already done well. The administration would like you to think that this is the equivalent of getting extra credit or a gold star for a job especially well done. (“Rewarding excellence” is their terminology.) But it’s really like a teacher staying after-school to tutor only the teacher’s pets. The students who really need the help are the ones who are being ignored. And once they know the teacher doesn’t have the time to pay attention to them, there’s little incentive to keep trying to please.

On a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon, someone asked Education Secretary Arne Duncan whether he thought the program would leave some states behind. Duncan responded with a flat “No,” saying that with all the other education stimulus money pumped into the system (more than $100 billion), no state was in this situation.

But then how will the losing states catch up? Duncan hinted that the administration hopes this issue will resolve itself. “We want to reward those states and those districts that have the courage and the political will to do that, and we think other states will follow.” Other states will follow. Two problems with this. First, how are they going to follow if they don’t have the money to do so? Second, what’s the incentive for them to follow through on reform without a big, Race to the Top-type reward? The behavioral economics don’t pan out.

After the call I asked Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton how they expected states to catch up. He was hesitant to get into hypotheticals. As no state has been refused money yet, he didn’t want to imagine how they’ll keep up with the states that will emerge as winners. . . . .

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