What’s Missing From Education Reform in America?

2008: Race to the Top of What?

 We know who the winners are, but who are the losers?

Secretary Duncan’s initiative for reforming America’s schools is called Race to the Top. Secretary Duncan describes his initiative as a competition among states to encourage innovation. In every competition there are winners and losers. So who are the winners and losers in Race to the Top? And how will competition spur innovation? Let’s follow the metaphor and the money.

In the first round of competition, Tennessee won $500 million and Delaware walked away with $100 million. Like good teams, the winners expressed pride in the “buy in” from various factions in their states. Prior to the second round, a representative from one of the runner-up states said, “Now we know what to put in our proposal.” So where’s the innovation in this? And once a state wins, what happens to those who don’t buy in?

Race to the Top is a standards and assessment based program, a fancy way of saying that the standard of academic success is test scores. Secretary Duncan’s pet component of winning proposals is the creation of data systems that will link standardized test scores to teacher performance, the first step in setting the criteria for merit pay. How will this encourage innovation among teachers? And how will assembling massive data systems of information cut the thirty percent dropout rate, improve the education of the twenty percent who do graduate but are functionally illiterate, and help the children who come to school hungry and demoralized from lives of poverty and neglect?

For more on the Data Dashboard that won Tennessee top honors—be prepared to be amazed!

“If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” —Chinese Proverb