Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Race to the Top

For my introductory blog post, I wanted to comment on the plans in congress to defund part of  "Race to the Top" in favor of a giveaway to the states to save teaching jobs.

I support President Obama's Race to the Top initiative. The effort  is an attempt to use a competitive grant process to get states to institute long needed reforms to public education. The program is documented here:

In particular, Ohio will get access to RttT funds based on our willingness to implement the components specified in this application. In general, the President believes that we should ease limitations on charter schools, look for innovation in how teachers are paid and evaluated, develop common standards and assessments and expand the use of data (particularly long term data) in evaluating teacher, school and district effectiveness.

Sometimes, it seems that any attempt to objectively assess teacher performance and use such assessment to inform compensation and retention decisions is unacceptable to the National Education Association, which is why they issued a vote of "no confidence" for RttT. It is obviously inappropriate to measure a teacher's effectiveness solely based on test scores, but the RttT initiative is designed to figure out what works - and what might get the consent of the unions. I was disappointed in NEA's decision not to embrace the administration's initiative as there is no serious argument that can be made that the optimal way to pay teachers is using the sole criteria of longevity and degrees earned, two items which study after study have shown have little or no impact on a teacher's ability to get the job done.

Still, despite the NEA opposition, about 50% of Ohio's districts have signed on to such reforms. Why? Because the federal government is offering a boatload of money for districts who commit to implementation. How much money? Around 4,500,000,000 (4.5 Billion dollars) will be available and most of that will funnel down to individual school districts. In Worthington, we stand to gain around $500K over a 4 year period to do things we probably would have done anyway.

Now, along comes Rep. David Obey (D-Wisconsin). Rep. Obey is concerned that states may have to lay off teachers because of rapidly deteriorating state budgets so he inserted a provision into a war spending bill that would give 10,000,000,000  (10 billion)  dollars to the states with absolutely no strings attached, no requirement for reform and no need to implement any of the President's education agenda. Rep. Obey decided to pay for some of that 10 Billion Dollars by reducing the amount of the RttT initiative.

To recap, President Obama proposes spending 4.5 Billion Dollars in competitive grants to get states to implement much needed education reforms. States like Ohio and districts like Worthington engage with their unions and agree on a blueprint for implementation. Ohio submits a grant application and will in all likelihood get the grant. Rep. Obey and other congressional democrats then decide to offer twice the amount without requiring the reforms. It is as if you try to get your kid to do her homework by offering her a trip to Zoombezi bay and then, an hour later, telling her to forget the homework and Zoombezi bay, you're going to Disneyland!

I think Rep. Obey is being short sighted. He is willing to trade an important education reform initiative for a one year delay in state governments having to make the structural changes that are required to balance their budgets. That's not a very good trade. Race to the Top is an important step in the right direction. Rep. Obey and the House Democrats should leave it alone.


  1. Marc:

    Good to see you start a blog. Your wisdom benefits not only the people of your school district, but also your colleagues on other school boards.

    I completely agree with your perspective on the Obey legislation. For those who believe that the recent Supreme Court opinion granting corporations the right to spend as they wish on campaign contributions was a move to turn politics over to 'big money interests,' take a look at the kind of political power the unions - in particular the public education unions - already have.

    And contrary to what the bumper stickers say, corporations are people too. They are owned by people, they employ people, and they pay taxes. If it's okay for union leaders to decide how to spend the money they collect, it should be okay for corporate boards to decide how to spend their shareholders' money.

    Paul Lambert
    Member, Board of Education
    Hilliard City Schools

  2. Marc, you need to do a little more studying up on the history of public ed. in this country. Start with John Gatto's book.