the race to mediocrity, part deux

President Obama recently announced the latest addition to his administration’s “Race to the Top” education fund – a $1.35 billion infusion. First funded as part of the $787 billion stimulus package passed early in Obama’s presidency, the Race to the Top is a pool of competitive education grants that select states will receive. To win a grant, states must reform their education systems to line up with Obama’s vision.

Now, what is this vision, you ask?

Let’s hear it straight from the President’s mouth:

Offering our children an outstanding education is one of our most fundamental – perhaps our most fundamental – obligations as a country…Countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and I refuse to let that happen on my watch.

It’s certainly a laudable goal – and I agree with the premise. Would that I’d find reasons to agree more, but such ended when I found out the main tenets of Team Obama’s reform plan; per the linked article:

Obama sees the use of student test scores to judge teacher performance and the creation of charter schools, which are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.

Hey, this sounds familiar – and that’s a problem.

FACT: many states lowered education standards to meet NCLB goals; what’s to stop states from doing the same with Race to the Top dollars? Again, Team Obama misses the mark – standardized tests can only say so much about student or teacher performance! What about the curriculum? What about ensuring that students understand (there’s that word again) the material so they stay competent through high school, college, and the real world? Methinks this will only encourage teaching to the test and more watered-down standards; what a way to “offer our children an outstanding education!”

As for charter schools, methinks this circumvents, not solves, the problems plaguing public schools. Let’s look at what a charter school is – it’s a public school that is publicly funded but not bound to the rules and regulations that traditional public schools are. They are also more accountable for student output (that is, academic performance and the teachers’ efficacy). The point is to give students a choice between traditional public schools and supposedly “superior” charter schools. A noble intent, but this doesn’t solve the main problem – sub-par public school education in traditional public schools!

Will traditional public schools continue to get the shaft? I certainly hope not; though I’ve heard little on how they’ll be improved. Then again, education is largely a local/state issue, so I guess it’s up to them to figure it out; if they can’t – or rather, if these cats continue playing political football at students’ expense, how in God’s name can we craft top-tier students that can effectively compete against our foreign counterparts?

If anything, this is more proof that dressing up a problem with charming words and a nice name does not solve the problem; No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top – what difference does it make when the root of the problems plaguing education go unsolved?

I hope I’m wrong, but the picture looks bleak; this is exactly why I feel this is more of a race to mediocrity instead of a race to the top.

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