Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at thinking, intelligent individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

29 August 2010

The Race to the Top and Over the Cliff

The federal government Race to the Top program has just made its Phase 2 awards this last week.  This program is designed to increase state and federal control over school systems.  The states are supposed to establish changes to:
  • Adopt standards and assessments to assure student success in college and employment.
  • Establish data systems to measure student knowledge and to allow educators to improve instruction.
  • Recruit, develop, reward, and retain good teachers and principals, especially in the worst performing schools.
  • Improve the performance of the worst schools.
The new standards and testing are in reading and math.  The states to date have often set these standards so low that they are virtually meaningless.

The Phase 1 awards were to Delaware and Tennessee.  A total of 46 states and the District of Columbia have applied for the Phase 1 or Phase 2 awards.  The Phase 2 awards were just given to 9 states and the District of Columbia.  These awards totaled $4 billion at a time when many states are facing deficits due to their high spending habits adopted prior to the recession, the drop in state revenues due to high unemployment and lowered company spending, and the increased costs of expanded entitlement programs due to the same unemployment.  The time was ripe for the federal government to exercise greater control over the many needy state governments.  Many a state was in crisis and vulnerable to a further federal grab of control of education.  The pressure for states to take more control from local school districts was a key "reform" in this program, as was pressure to put more resources into the worst schools, largely in the inner cities.

Aspects of the program try to reduce the power of the stultifying teachers unions.  They are opposing education reforms in more states than not.  The Race to the Top program favors charter schools, evaluating teachers based on their student's test scores, and firing large fractions of teachers and the principals of the worst performing schools.  The teachers unions are critical allies of the Democrat Party.  They vote solidly for the Democrats, their unions contribute huge sums of money, and the teachers can always be relied upon to donate large amounts of their time to support the Democrat candidates for office.  This critical role was recognized by the House and Senate returning from their summer recess and the start of many of the congressional campaigns in order to add $26 billion of a new stimulus round expressly for teachers and schools.  This was viewed as so critical, that the Democrats even reduced the Food Stamps program to find the money for it just prior to the mid-term elections!  Now, few teachers were in danger of being fired due to the decrease in state revenues, since the schools are nearly sacrosanct in most school districts.  Cuts are usually made elsewhere in government.  But, this infusion of money will have made the teachers unions more enthusiastic about the upcoming election and was to offset their concerns about the Race to the Top program and its threats to  poor teachers.  If the teachers unions signed on to the proposed state reforms in the Race to the Top program proposals, extra points were given to the state in the competition.

During the Great Depression, FDR was very efficient in giving money and programs to those states which were important in his re-election plans.  He drained money from the South, since he was assured of the votes of the South.  He poured money into a number of western states he thought he could win with their higher ratios of electoral votes to their populations.  Bearing in mind that virtually every state applied for the Race to the Top program educational money, examine the table below for a balance of Democrat and Republican governors, legislatures, and the 2008 presidential election vote:

D = Democrat, R = Republican, I = Independent, S = Split, Y = yes.

The most evenly divided category is the governor's party.  Three are Republicans, six are Democrats, and one, Charlie Crist of Florida, was elected as a Republican, but is now serving the Democrats.  Seven of the legislatures are Democrat, 2 are Republican, and one is split.  All but two of the states voted for Obama in 2008.  Apparently, Democrat dominated states are much better managers of statewide education reform, according to these results.  One of the consequences of more federal control over our education system will be a continued such politicization of our schools, already heavily Democrat influenced via the control of the socialist teachers unions!

Aspects of the Race to the Top program seem to actually address some educational problems, specifically that of low expectations for principals, teachers, and students.  This makes the program for more federal control seem to be less objectionable.  However, this is really a Trojan Horse and that may be why at least 4 of  the states were able to persuade the teachers unions to back their reform plan.  Actually, in the case of Hawaii that was easy since their plan was very light on reform anyway.  In the longer run, this plan will enable more federal control and that will be used to increase the power of the unions and will also be used to push the unions to give even more support to the Democrats in order to influence that power to favor the unions.

If the Race to the Top program really were very serious about improving education reform, it would have encouraged the states to produce voucher programs to replace poor performing public schools with private schools.  It would have allowed schools to experiment with the curriculum, rather than standardizing just on reading and writing and that on what is likely to be low standards.  It is unlikely any teachers union would sign on to support a true reform of our education system.  Of course, a decentralization of power over the schools and the increased exercise of smaller local school boards would be a most critical part of any real reform plan.  It is necessary to produce schools that are responsive to the parents and that emphasize the role of the professional, not the blue-collar, educator.

You cannot interest students in reading unless you give them interesting things to read.  To do that, you must emphasize literature, history, economics, and science.  Math is a great tool, but it is a tool.  Its study is commonly best motivated by teaching its applications to science, economics, engineering, and business.  Finally, programs teaching that some people are victims by virtue of their race simply provide the people of those races with excuses and encourage lower expectations.  They need to be told that they will individually be judged on the basis of their character and that many people will judge that in good part on what they know and on their commitment to knowing more throughout their lives.  The Democrats are not willing to deliver this essential message.  Without it, their so-called reform cannot be taken seriously.  Unfortunately, their grab for national control of our complete public school system should be taken very seriously.

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