Tag: race to the top fund

Unfortunately, One Man’s “Paranoia” Is Everyone Else’s “Reality”

Finished with my woman
‘Cause she couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane
Because I am frowning all the time

- Black Sabbath, “Paranoid”

According to the Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn, I and others like me are “paranoid.” So why, like Ozzy Osbourne, am I “frowning all the time?” Because I look at decades of public schooling reality and, unlike Finn, see the tiny odds that “common” curriculum standards won’t become federal standards, gutted, and our crummy education system made even worse.

Finn’s rebuttal to my NRO piece skewering the push for national standards, unfortunately, takes the same tack he’s used for months: Assert that the standards proposed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are better than what most states have produced on their own; say that adopting them is “voluntary;” and note that we’ve got to do something to improve the schools.

Let’s go one by one:

First, as Jay Greene has pointed out again and again, the objection to national standards is not that the proposed CCSSI standards are of poor quality (though not everyone, certainly, agrees with Finn’s glowing assessment of them). The objection is that once money is attached to them – once the “accountability” part of “standards and accountability” is activated – they will either be dumbed down or just rendered moot by a gamed-to-death accountability system. 

This kind of objection, by the way, is called “thinking a few steps ahead,” not “paranoia.”

It’s also called “learning from history.” By Fordham’s own, constant admission, most states have cruddy standards, and one major reason for this is that special interests like teachers’ unions – the groups most motivated to control public schooling politics because their members’ livelihoods come from the public schools – get them neutered. 

But if centralized, government control of standards at the state level almost never works, there is simply no good reason to believe that centralizing at the national level will be effective. Indeed, it will likely be worse with the federal government, whose money is driving this, in charge instead of states, and parents unable even to move to one of the handful of states that once had decent standards to get an acceptable education.

Next, let’s hit the the “voluntary” adoption assertion. Could we puh-leaze stop with this one! Yes, as I note in my NRO piece, adoption of the CCSSI standards is technically voluntary, just as states don’t have to follow the No Child Left Behind Act or, as Ben Boychuk points out in a terrific display of paranoia, the 21-year-old legal drinking age. All that states have to do to be free is “voluntarily” give up billions of federal dollars that came from their taxpaying citizens whether those citizens liked it or not! 

So right now, if states don’t want to sign on to national standards, they just have to give up on getting part of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund. And very likely in the near future, if President Obama has his way, they’ll just have to accept not getting part of about $14.5 billion in Elementary and Secondary Education Act money.

Some voluntarism….

Finally, there’s the “we’ve got to do something to fix the schools” argument. I certainly agree that the education system needs fixing. My point is that it makes absolutely no sense to look at fifty centralized, government systems, see that they don’t work, and then conclude that things would be better if we had just one centralized, government system. And no, that other nations have national standards proves nothing: Both those nations that beat us and those that we beat have such standards.

The crystal clear lesson for those who are willing to see it is that we need to decentralize control of education, especially by giving parents control over education funding, giving schools autonomy, and letting proven, market-based standards and accountability go to work. 

Oh, right.  All this using evidence and logic is probably just my paranoia kicking in again.


Wednesday Links

  • Alan Reynolds: Hey, leave Lieberman alone. “Human interest stories are sure to get readers’ sympathy. But emotion is no substitute for common sense.”
  • The money behind climate science.

Fed Ed Snow Job

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.