Every year since the introduction of Race to the Top, I wait in high anticipation to see whether President Obama will recognize how demoralizing this program has been to the nation’s educators. I keep hoping he will acknowledge that it has intensified the punitive effects of No Child Left Behind, that its demand to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students has no evidence to support it, that its support for charter schools has unleashed an unprecedented wave of privatization, that its encouragement of merit pay has led to repeated failures, and that it has promoted teaching to the test and narrowing the curriculum. President Bush would have loved to get the heavy-handed accountability and privatization features of Race to the Top into his own legislation, but Congressional Democrats in 2001 would never have permitted it.
Every year I have been disappointed. (Not surprisingly, he did not take my advice, other than in his advocacy for early childhood education.)
Last night was not as bad as two years ago, when the President claimed that Race to the Top was developed by teachers and principals and local communities. He made it sound as though the administration had stumbled upon these wonderful grassroots ideas, when in fact the Race to the Top plan was designed in Arne Duncan’s office by insiders from the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the NewSchools Venture Fund and a small number of other insiders in the corporate reform movement. In fact, the design of Race to the Top was spelled out in a document released by the Broad Foundation in April 2009 (Race to the Top was announced in July 2009), and no one has ever confused the Broad Foundation with the grassroots and local communities.
Then there was the State of the Union address in 2012 when the President said he didn’t want teachers to teach to the test, and said in the next sentence that he wanted teachers to be rewarded for results and removed for not getting results. Talk about mixed messages! So teachers will be rewarded if their students get higher scores but fired if their students don’t get higher scores. But don’t teach to the tests that determine whether you get a bonus or get fired.
But on to last night.
The President was great on gun control. Not so impressive on education.
The President’s customary praise for Race to the Top was muted, which was a good sign. He said that RTTT had caused states to improve their curriculum and standards, meaning the adoption of Common Core, about which the jury (evidence) is still out.
He made a strong and persuasive plea for high-quality preschool for all, which made many people (including me) very happy.
He said something about encouraging new high-tech programs for high schools so that students are ready for the workforce, as the Germans do. It was not clear to me what new program he has in mind or how it relates to the Common Core. It was actually incoherent because in the past he has said he wants the U.S. to have the highest college graduation rate in the world, but Germany has a far lower college graduation rate than ours. So, does he want the best high school workforce training programs, like Germany’s or the highest college graduation rate in the world, like Korea?
And most puzzling of all was his rhetoric about higher education.
Here is the logic:
Higher education is very important (agreed).
Higher education costs too much (agreed).
The government won’t continue to subsidize the rising cost of tuition (why not? States have increasingly shifted the burden of college costs to students in recent years, which is why it costs more). By the way, during the last campaign, Romney’s white paper on education said the same thing: If you raise government subsidies, the universities will raise their tuition. So don’t give students any more assistance with their debts.
Colleges and universities should cut their costs (he didn’t say how; 70% of faculty in higher education are adjuncts, or “contingent faculty,” working for subsistence wages).
The federal government will publish a scorecard to identify the best combination of quality and costs, and students will flock to the institutions where they get the best deal. (So now the U.S. Department of Education will compete with the annual rankings published by U.S. News & World Report?).
Here is the scorecard, which I tried just now.
I live in New York City. I put in my zip code and asked for a list of colleges within 20 miles of my home address. I got no results.
I asked for a small liberal arts college–1,000-5,000 students–and got no results.
I put in the name of a small liberal arts college about 3 miles from my home and got no results.
Maybe it will work for you.
Ah, well, first-day bugs.