Monday, July 27, 2009

Starving schools into "reform"

Arne Duncan has $4.35 billion (spread out over 50 states and several years) in Race-To-The-Top money to "incentivize" (is that a real word?) his top-down school reform model. It's about the same size as Bush's failed Reading First program. Aside from the fact that the model (lifting charter caps, more testing, performance pay) has no more research juice behind it than Reading First had, his RTTT leverage money is a piddling amount compared to what's needed to keep schools afloat--let along do systemic change.

Just look at California for a minute, with a state deficit of $26 billion and 99% of its schools failing to meet NCLB standards. The State Senate just cut $15 billion from education and health care.

Sure, some states will raise charter caps, as Illinois did (even where the previous cap hasn't been reached yet) just to have a better shot at the stim money. But is that a real reform plan? Uh uh. In fact, in some cases it's downright retrograde.

Take Wisconsin for example. A progressive Wisconsin Legislature has made it illegal to tie teacher pay to the sole criteria of test scores. Tipping his hat to the most conservative forces in the state, like the Bradley Foundation, Duncan is now threatening to deny federal dollars to already underfunded urban districts in the state unless the legislature revokes its own state law.

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