Friday, March 05, 2010
“Race to the Top” is part of a plot against public education
by Larry Geller
Both Honolulu dailies defined Hawaii’s omission from among the 16 states that were selected for the first round of federal “Race to the Top” grants as a miss and the loss of a possible $74 million (see: Advertiser, Hawaii fails to get federal Race to the Top education funds (3/5/2010) and Star-Bulletin, Hawaii outpaced in initial round of 'Race to the Top' school funding (3/5/2010).
While the money would of course be very welcome, Hawaii wasn’t likely to succeed in the competition, and not just because of Furlough Fridays. Hawaii’s Department of Education and our legislature want to strengthen public education, but the federal “school reform” grant is rigged towards plans to privatize public education. Indeed, “school reform” is a long-standing euphemism for voucher programs, “choice”, charters (usually a form of privatization) and union-busting.
Although there was initial hope that the incoming Obama administration would oppose and defang Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, instead he has embraced and enlarged the program. “Race to the Top” is in line with NCLB objectives.
While a boon to business, NCLB is frequently criticized for its teach-to-the-test mindset and for escalating goals leading up to 2014 when 100% proficiency is to be required in reading and math, a clear impossibility. Instead of offering a carrot or providing assistance needed to improve, “failing” schools are punished.
As 2014 approaches, public education is increasingly demonized nationwide. As time goes on, it’s hard to say how badly our system of education will be battered and how many children’s future will be compromised. Knowing how to read (but not reading) and how to do math are poor substitutes for a complete education, nor may critical thinking survive under 2014 conditions. Kids might as well be uncritical, unthinking robots who can count and follow directions.
Parents who want a well-rounded education such as they themselves might have had, have little choice other than to supplement school with the music, arts, history,civics, and other material that schools are removing from their curricula, or else take their children out of public school entirely.
So can Hawaii win a “Race to the Top” grant? There are clues to be found in this morning’s Democracy Now segment, Leading Education Scholar Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind Has Left US Schools with Legacy of “Institutionalized Fraud”. For one thing, the DOE better get hold of Bill or Melinda Gates:
The Washington Post reports that all the first round finalists, except for Delaware and South Carolina, received financial help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in preparing their “Race to the Top” application. The foundation gave many states grants of up to $250,000 each to pay for a consultant to help them craft their application.
Even with Bill and Melinda’s help, Hawaii will have a tough time qualifying for a grant if these criteria apply:
They’ve said to the states in the “Race to the Top,” this competition that was just held, that the requirements to be considered are, first of all, that the states have to be committed to privatizing many, many, many public schools. These are called charter schools. They’re privatized schools. The Bush administration would have never gotten away with that, because Congress would have stopped them.
They’ve also required states to commit to evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, which means that that will put even more emphasis on standardized testing, more drill down of test prep, more emphasis on basic skills. And also, it’s a very unfair measure, because it means that the students who live in poor communities, that they’re likely to get small gains, whereas the kids in the affluent communities will get big gains. And so, we’ll see the third emphasis of the Obama plan, which is close low-performing schools.
The Democracy Now segment is well worth watching (or read the transcript). It’s an interview with Diane Ravitch, who was Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Education Secretary Lamar Alexander under President George H.W. Bush and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.
I’ll end with a quotation I’m fond of, from a radio program I participated in with educator Dr. Larry Lieberman on KCCN many years ago. He said, “You can’t fatten a cow by weighing it,” referring to the folly of using standardized tests to improve public education. No, instead of improving public education, they are weapons used by critics to destroy it.
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