“Rhode Island is a winner!”

That’s the subject line of an email from Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist announcing that Rhode Island came in fifth in the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Race to the Top competition. Frankly, I find the presentation of the entire give-away creepy.
If we begin with the belief that public education is a states’ rights matter, what we have here is an unelected federal bureaucrat using billions of our own money to elicit eager willingness of unelected state bureaucrats to give his office authority to judge and shape the education ultimately provided, and largely funded, at the municipal level. As I’ve opined before, the particulars may sound good, now, but they will dilute and expand until it’s just a matter of assumption that the local men and women whom we elect to school committees just have to do whatever the executive branch of the federal government says. And as I’ve also noted before, quoting Education Policy Director for the American Enterprise Institute Frederick Hess, the selling points of the “reform” are not as prominent in reality as they are in the headlines:

A few of the 19 priorities rewarded states for moving on measures such as charter schooling and merit pay, with states earning 40 points (out of a maximum total of 500) for supporting high-performing charters and 58 points for using student-achievement results to improve teacher and principal effectiveness. But the vast majority of the points are awarded for compliance with often woolly federal criteria: 65 points for articulating an agenda and securing local buy-in, 10 points for prioritizing education funding, 20 points for providing effective support to educators, and so on. If you’re not entirely sure what these categories entail, welcome to the club; they reward states for procuring signatures of union support, for spending more on schools, and for adopting impressive-sounding professional schemes.

And again, this is all being done with billions of dollars from an entity that’s trillions of dollars into deficit and will either have to pull the financial rug out from under its promises or increase our taxes heavily for us to maintain the privilege of doing what it says.

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11 years ago

Congrats Justin! You are now officially a “Rhode Islander”. You find negativity in everything that happens around here. Everything! Nothing is ever good or worthy or worth the risk. Nothing!
Congrats again.

11 years ago

I have mixed feelings, because in 1968 I received two high school diplomas. The first was from my local rural regional school district. The second was a New York State Regents diploma. Guess which one carried the weight? Currently, NY’s results from providing guidance and standards for schools aren’t getting the same level of results. I think the problems are the usual local ones – failures to perform by parents, teachers and students. You need something other than multiple levels of guidance and regulations to fix that.
When it comes time lay off parts of the Federal government, the Dept of Education is on the top of my list.

11 years ago

Your fear is well founded. The state aleady cut education funding for 2010 and took Federal stimulus funds from FY2011 and moved them back into 2010. That reduced funds available for 2011. When that vanishes, the state won’t have the money to replace it, leaving the locals to raise more in property taxes to make up the difference. All this while Race to the Top money is pouring in to fund new initiatives, the benefit of which can’t be measured (if any truly exists) for several years.
And when the grant is gone, we will be left with a whole new set of mandates requiring local and/or state funding.
AND…though I am an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools, no matter how many there are, there will always be students left behind in the regular public schools. Basd on the funding scheme recently developed, the charter schools will have access to more funding than the regular public schools because of their access to private foundations and their generous grants. And, they will be operating without the burden of children from dysfunctional families and borderline (or actual) criminals disrupting every effort to provide the interested students with a quality education.
But the headlines, cheering, congratulations all around, and back slapping sure makes for good television and newspaper headlines.
We should not be so happy about this.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

That’s not true. However, I do find negativity in things that centralize and aggregate power in government, and there’s been a lot of that going on, lately, even, disappointingly, from the governor.

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