Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't Pass on Race-to-the-Top

Yesterday's Minneapolis Tribune carries an Editorial on Race to the Top arguing that "Stakeholders should set aside differences in spirit of innovation." Race to the Top is a new multi-billion dollar fund provided by the Federal Government to challenge states and districts to reform. Unfortunately, Race to the Top has become mired in education politics. The reasons are both simple and complex. Like every other administration in the last several decades, the Obama administration has come in with fixed ideas on what must be done in public education in order to "reform" education. Some of the ideas are good, some are terrible, and some are untested and unproven. Many of the ideas are driven by the belief that we should treat all school districts as if they were failed dysfunctional schools like those found in the most troubled areas of major cities. Some are influenced by the emerging charter-industrial complex of lobbyists and who are seeking to turn education into a trillion dollar private industry. The Obama initiatives, in fact, are not all that different from the Bush initiatives, because they derive from the think-tank bureaucracy of the beltway.

Those are all faults, but there are many positives in the reforms and above all, the Race to the Top funding provides desperately needed funding for those parts of education that needs the most improvement and reform. The editorial warns us:

Last week's forecast that more billion-dollar budget deficits are on the horizon in Minnesota doesn't bode well for any institution that relies on state aid. And though state lawmakers protected the $12 billion-plus K-12 education budget from deep cuts this year, that probably won't happen in 2010.

As teachers organizations across the state campaign for large compensation increases, most citizens cannot understand why they would refuse to cooperate with funding opportunities like Race to the Top. Yes, the funding comes with problems and flaws, but nothing is perfect. We have become mired in Minnesota in a philosophy of "my way or the highway," instead of putting the future of our children first. Leading democratic legislators and statewide candidates have been strangely silent, almost AWOL, on these issues. Leading republicans see this as an opportunity to pander to the worst instincts of Minnesotans. The Governor seems poised to use the failure of public educators to seize this opportunity as an excuse to inflict further unilateral cuts to education.

In this time of financial crisis, we are witnessing bankrupt behavior. Problem solving by pandering, picketing, and punting. Its time for the adults in politics and education to put aside destructive behavior, reach out and make the best of the opportunities we have. As the editorial rightly states:

In some states, resistance to reforms from special interest groups has hampered the application process. Minnesotans should expect better from their educators, legislators and teachers. We urge stakeholders in education to set aside partisanship and turf battles and work together on a grant proposal that is best for kids.

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