Remember that documentary, Waiting for Superman? You know, the one that pitted parent against school, student against teacher, union against state, and showed the whole world that the United States was the dumb country, according to the illustrious Michelle Rhee? Do you remember the one and only hope for those poor, urban kids–the savior? It was a lottery drawing. After applying for help, and desperately praying, hoping, and losing sleep, these families were duped into the idea that the only way their students could be successful was if their Bingo ball rolled out of the cage.
It’s a ridiculous notion that has been chewed up several times, so I don’t need to go into it. However, it’s easy to see that exact same game now being played by the Great Hand of Duncan. This Spring, 372 applicants–often at great expense–applied for the next phase of Race to the Top grants, which is comprised of a $400 million jackpot. This week, the Department of Education released its list of 61 finalists. On December 31, the Department will select between 15 – 25 winners.
Do you see the connection? When a student from Waiting for Superman wasn’t selected, it was made a point to show the crushing disappointment on camera (whether or not those scenes were staged is up for debate). I’ve seen the meetings of two of North Carolina’s school districts as they spoke about how badly needed new funds were, and how losing the competition would devastate the budget. Now, we’re not just talking about one child crying in his pillow for missing the opportunity to join a charter school, we’re looking at hundreds and thousands of students whose schools will getting poorer and poorer.
On the other hand, there are intelligent educators, superintendents, and union leaders who recognized that the strings attached to the grant were not worth the extra efforts and costs. In fact, several districts estimated that the cost of implementing those strings would outspend the money being awarded. So, it sounds like it was a lose-lose situation to begin with.
What really gets me riled up is the premise. The competition is not only poorly designed and, let’s face it, pretty childish, it’s also antithetical to the mindset that Americans must adopt if we are to maintain any position of respect, power, or wealth in the rapidly-changing world economy. Why do we work so hard to convince our students to work together, cooperate, collaborate, and share their knowledge, when our own president and secretary of education are calling on districts to fight among themselves for funding?
DOE Secretary Arne Duncan says that the winners are those who will develop the revolutionary tools to close achievement gaps, and other districts can then adopt those programs. Am I the only one who sees how limiting and close-minded this is? Is anyone else just plain insulted?
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