Race to Nonsense

     Vermont, eminently reasonable in practically everything, has told President Obama it will not compete for $40 million in “Race to the Top” education funding.
     Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Arne Duncan that after spending hundreds of hours of staff time working on the federal applications, Vermont realized the grants are aimed at big urban school districts – which have enough dead meat consuming oxygen in central offices that they can fill out the paperwork.
     That’s not exactly what Vilaseca wrote, but it’s what he meant.
     I’m a fan of President Obama – probably because I never expected much from him. But his “Race to the Top” education program is pathetic.
     It’s not an outright fraud, as G.W. Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” tap dance was. But it’s still a joke.
     Vermont was one of 15 small states allowed to compete for $40 million.
     Schools across the entire country were asked to compete for $600 million this year.
     That comes to a total “reward” of $11.10 for every kid in a U.S. public school.
     That’s not enough for every kid to buy lunch for a week.
     That’s not a commitment to education.
     That’s not a commitment to anything.
     Why should public schools have to compete for decent funding?
     Why don’t we just see that public schools have decent funding?
     Why don’t banks have to compete for federal money? Or agribusinesses? Or the Pentagon?
     England, whose schools are far superior to ours, funds them through a national trust. That makes a lot more sense than the way we do it – actually, fail to do it – by local property taxes.
     What would happen if Washington tried to fund the bailouts of Wall Street banks through local property taxes? We all know what would have happened.
     The only kind words that can be said – honestly – about Obama’s Race to the Top is that it’s not an outright, punitive fraud, as Leave No Child Behind was.
     Bush’s program was not designed to improve public education; it was designed to undermine it. Its major component was punishment, and what’s more, it was designed to punish every public school district in the United States. It had to do this, inevitably, because of its demand for continual annual progress in test scores – or punishment in the form of reduced funding.
     There comes a point at which continual annual process is impossible. My niece, for example, was one of those rare kids who scored 1,600 on her SATs. If she were a school, under No Child Left Behind, she would be punished – inevitably – the next year, because she couldn’t improve her test scores.
     No Child allowed miserable school districts in Mississippi and Kansas to set their own pathetic “standards,” and “meet or exceed” them, while schools that set real standards – such as California and Vermont – were punished for doing it.
     No Child was designed to take money away from public schools and send it to dubiously qualified, shoddily run, sometimes corrupt charter schools that push religion, creationism – whatever they want.
     That’s not just my opinion. I asked California’s Superintendent of Public Education, face to face, if my analysis of No Child was correct, or if I was missing something.
     He said I was correct.
     Obama, to his credit, appears to believe that punishing public schools by taking money away from them is not going to solve anything.
     But offering public schools the “opportunity” to compete against one another for a grand total of $11.10 per kid per year is not a Race to the Top of anything.
     By the way, Vermont’s elementary kids scored first in the nation last year in reading. You know why?
     Small classes. Small schools. School boards that treat teachers well enough that they stick around and get to know the kids. And no need for anyone to duck bullets on the way to school.
     It doesn’t take $600 million to figure that out.
     But it will take more money than that to provide it for every kid who deserves it.
     Instead of competing against one another, why don’t our public schools, and parents, get together and ask Congress and the president how many of our kids deserve it?

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