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

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Schott Foundation Slams Obama's Planned Renewal of ESEA as RTTT

If there could ever be a plan purely antithetical to the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act that President Johnson pushed through Congress in 1965, the Oligarchs' Race to the Top (RTTT) is it.  Rather than a universal treatment for a universal acknowledgement of poverty and segregation as the problem in schools, RTTT is a competition based on selection of those willing to accept the high-dollar bribes for transforming their systems into segregated corporate charter schools that ignore poverty and treat children as malleable inmates in total compliance minimum security prisons, i. e., KIPPs.  How these times have a-changed.   And yet it is this Gates-approved bribe-acceptance method chosen by Obama as the strategy to address what he calls our Sputnik moment.  Very bad joke and not funny.

While the Schott Foundation supports, wrongly I think, Obama's goal of being first in the world in college graduates by 2020, the Foundation see a huge disconnect between this "audacious goal" and the cheap, exclusionary policy of Race to the Top (my bolds):
. . . .Schott applauds the President for refocusing the nation on this audacious goal.

Recognizing the size and depth of the challenge that states, districts, schools, teachers, parents, and students are being called to address, with an equally high level of resolve Schott rejects the President's call to use Race to the Top (RTT) as the approach to follow as we reauthorize the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA)/No Child Left Behind law. This approach will not meet that goal.

Piecemeal programs like RTT, that require states to compete for resources in the form of grants, have not systemically solved the problems of American education over the past two years, nor will they in the future. The role of the federal government is not one of a foundation, but as an agent of the people working to ensure opportunities for all.  To date, 39 states either were non-participants or losers in RTT. How can the United States win if 39 states lose, let alone stay on a trajectory to increase the number of college graduates by 23 million above the current number?  After two years of implementation and allotting close to $4 billion dollars, the initiative has only distributed resources in states with just 24% of African American students, 15% of Latino students, 5% of Asian students, 0% of American Indian students, and 6% percent of ELL students. Additionally, poor rural states and their students have been grossly underrepresented in RTT. 

In this "Sputnik moment," pairing the nation's 2020 goal with a RTT policy frame is analogous to challenging the nation to reach the moon and forcing states and communities to develop their own rockets to get there.  As one Long Island grandparent passionately stated after New York Gov. Cuomo announced a similar competitive plan for that state, "Our kids are not game show contestants where parents should be forced to compete on getting them in the right districts or schools."

Education is a civil right and the federal government has the obligation to ensure all students' right to an opportunity to learn are protected, whether in strong or strained fiscal climates. 

A competitive-based frame like RTT works against the very purpose for which ESEA was created in 1965 as a part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty-to prevent states, districts, parents, and America's children from competing to have their right to an opportunity to learn protected. We urge the President not to lead America back to the pre-ESEA status quo days of states jockeying and politicking for federal funding; this approach has historically proven to do what the first two years of RTT has-leave poor, disadvantaged, and rural citizens behind.

The time has come for us to end the practice of avoiding the size of our challenge by creating limited initiatives like RTT that work only on the margins. As the President proclaimed, "America does Big Things," and a race that only impacts 11 of 50 states is far from "big." The big 2020 goal requires a plan with the breadth, depth, and scope to address systemic issues and place and sustain America on a trajectory to achieve the goal.

That plan must address the fact that the rate at which America suspends, expels, pushes out, and eventually incarcerates its youth and citizens is neither sustainable nor aligned with a country seeking to be a global leader by 2020. The United States leads all countries in the percentage of its citizens incarcerated.

The tone in which the country approaches the teaching profession or the rate in which teachers are being laid off or are leaving the profession is neither sustainable nor aligned with a country seeking to be a global leader by 2020.

The lost opportunities that result from denying the children of undocumented parents access to the resources needed to attend our colleges and universities, preparing them to help further build the nation's capacity, is neither sustainable nor aligned with a country seeking to be a global leader by 2020.

The level of resource inequities and the lack of states' capacity to administer educational reforms and initiatives are neither sustainable nor aligned with a country seeking to be a global leader by 2020.

The Schott Foundation calls upon the President to outline a comprehensive, evidence-supported plan outlining the policy proposals and investments necessary over the next ten years to systemically provide all students-in all states-an opportunity to learn.

We know how to provide quality education for every American child. Teaching professionals and American researchers developed proven methods for comprehensive education systems decades ago. Unfortunately, these methods and reforms have been primarily adopted and implemented by countries with education systems we now look to with envy-while the methods and reforms have been largely ignored here at home.

South Korea, China, Singapore, Finland, and Ontario, Canada all have outcompeted the United States by investing in core Opportunity to Learn components: (1) high quality early education for all; (2) holding their teaching professionals in high regard as "nation builders" by investing in the proper supports to build teachers up, not tear them down; (3) requiring students to meet high standards; and (4) providing more equitable distribution of its resources. These education reforms aren't in the press as often as mass firing of teachers, or stories about a single school where students perform well, but they systemically open the doors of opportunity for other countries' children and they can do the same for our children. 

Schott is well aware that achieving these investments in this fiscal climate will require tough choices. One primary choice that must be made is between babies and books or bullets. Our national defense budget remains almost as much as the rest of the world's defense spending combined. Lowering the deficit can't be on the backs of our children and their opportunity.  As the United States looks for ways to address our national debt and deficit, reducing education supports to states and districts is not the answer and only creates a greater national security challenge. The time has come for our country to choose whether we will be a generation that destroys or builds. Schott applauds the President's willingness to reduce defense spending to address our fiscal challenges and calls on him to propose at least a 25 percent cut in the defense budget. Our nation's educational future should be one of its greatest national security goals. 

If our country is going to rise out of its strained economic climate, the next two years can neither be about the political left nor the right, but intently focused on the issue squarely in the center for so many in America-opportunity. While extending the "opportunity for success" can be primarily addressed in the short term by creating new jobs, the only sustainable way to ensure America's social, democratic, and economic growth is by providing all in America a fair and substantive opportunity to learn, rather than only an opportunity to compete. 

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