So by now most of us have heard of President Obama’s State of the Union speech and his call for three new educational initiatives. As taken from a transcript of the speech these initiatives are:
- “Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America”
- “Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy”
- “Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.”
So where does that leave ‘The Race to the Top’, or RTT, initiative and fund of the Obama administration? This $4.35 billion competitive grant program aimed to kick-start many key education reforms in states and districts. It was also intended to create the conditions for greater educational innovation. “America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters,” President Barack Obama said when he first announced the program in July 2009. “The race starts today.”
As described by the Center for American Progress Race to the Top promises to help states and districts close achievement gaps and get more students into college by supporting key reform strategies including:
- Adopting more rigorous standards and assessments
- Recruiting, evaluating, and retaining highly effective teachers and principals
- Turning around low-performing schools
- Building data systems that measure student success
States that applied for the grant also had to show momentum around collaboration and reform as well as promise to work in key innovation areas, including expanding support for high-performing charter schools and reinvigorating math and science education.
Since the challenge was put forward forty states and the District of Columbia applied for funding, and the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of Phase 1—Delaware and Tennessee—in March 2010. Phase 2 winners were named in August 2010, and they included the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. (Note: Another seven states received RTT Phase 3 grants in December 2011.
So in the 3.5 years of the ‘Race’ being initiated what impact has it had on our 1000 student school district in NY since it was awarded to the state about 2.5 years ago? The answer would be that while much has changed the impact of these changes on student ability, student college and career readiness, measuring student success and teacher competence are still just starting to take root. It will take years for these changes to become part of the cultural and social fabric of our academic institution. It will also take almost as long for empirical measures to assess the impact.
While I don’t disagree with the Presidents ideas and desire to move our education system forward I do disagree with adding more federal involvement in education. Dangling more sticks with carrots hanging on them to promote more change without completing the initial set of changes is only asking for trouble and chaos at the school district level. Pre-K is funny here in NYS because right now Kindergarten is NOT a required level of education and Pre-K is viewed the same. Pre-K is something we do as a school district because we get a state grant of $200K to offer it. That is great, but the program actually costs $250K. So in these tough economic times the elimination of Pre-K from the budget for next school year is a very real possibility.
As bad as NYS is on keeping promises to fund initiatives we know that the Federal government is worse. Letting the Federal Government dictate education and education standards is not in the best interest of students especially if they continue to create these ‘Presidential races and initiatives that are never given the chance to succeed. Infact, estimates are that the standardized state tests that will be given this year will have 60% higher failure rates then last year. How are our children going to feel about that?