When you get to the top of a mountain, what do you find? Other than maybe a mountain goat, or the frozen remains of an ill-fated previous climber, snow, that’s what. That’s why it’s almost appropriate that the Obama administration’s Race to the The Top Fund, as I have written before and write again in this new op-ed, is essentially a snow job. And it seems to be a particularly blinding one.
To qualify for Fund dollars, states have to make hardly any meaningful changes to their education systems. For the most part they just have to submit plans for how they could conceivably do good stuff. Moreover, the same “stimulus” that furnished the $4.35 billion for Race to The Top supplied roughly 20 times that amount to protect the abysmal, obese education status quo from recessionary pressures. Nonetheless, many conservatives, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, are going out of their way to lionize Obama & co. for their reform efforts.
Why the cross-spectrum adulation? One problem is certainly that some conservatives have given up on real reform — universal school choice and getting the feds out of education — in favor of being seen as “doing something” from Washington. Probably more important, though, is that Race to the Top is constantly being festooned in brash, combative rhetoric about pushing what are actually relatively minor — but still disliked by teacher union — improvements such as linking educator pay to student performance and increasing charter schools. (For a taste of the hyperbole, check out Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s opening commentary from Sunday’s Meet the Press.) That Race to the Top falls far short of actually doing even these very limited things seems not to matter.
That leads to a very familiar, but nonetheless dispiriting, conclusion: in education, a blizzard of rhetoric is all it takes to blind people to reality.