Obama’s Race to the Top competition won’t fix public schools
Competition may bring out the best in business and sports, but that logic doesn’t necessarily apply to public schools. The practical way to mend the educational system is by implementing economic and social reforms that focus on the children.Los Angeles —
For taxpayers who are frustrated and angry over the glacial pace of school improvement, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative. Patience, after all, has its limits. But distribution of $4.5 billion in discretionary funding to schools that qualify will not improve educational quality for all children.
This assessment is based largely on the emphasis given to competition as the centerpiece in creating successful schools.
A slew of recent commentary articles have argued that, because competition brings out the best performance in athletics and business, it should raise the quality of public education, too. Only by being patient with charter schools and by offering performance pay for teachers as the embodiment of competition can reform ever become a reality.
But since US education is at a crossroads, it’s imperative to take a close look at the assertion that competition would boost performance.
The best empirical evidence raises sharp questions about relying on charter schools and merit pay as the principal means of remedying the country’s educational ills. Yet the Obama administration seems to ignore it. If Obama were the pragmatic president he claims to be, he would realize that schools by themselves cannot possibly heal the education system.
The goal of a healthier education system can be achieved only by the implementation of economic and social reforms aimed at narrowing the differences in the backgrounds of children whom schools serve. Whether we have the will to take the unprecedented steps necessary, however, is entirely another matter.
Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.
Be sure to read all of Walt's excellent critique (here), and raise your voice in protest against the Race to Nowhere.