Obama’s Race to the Bottom


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

On the eve of President Obama’s Inauguration for his second term, I thought it might be useful to look more closely at one of his policies that is not working for students or parents. I am referring to his educational policy, better know by its marketing name, Race to the Top.  This “quaint” title for his corporate backed privatizing plan hides the negative impact it has had in the schools themselves.  It is has led to school closings and teacher firings for the sole purpose of school districts being eligible for  the Race to the Top grants from the Federal government! 

While this foundation backed type of “reform” was started by the Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind program, President Obama has taken the No Child Left Behind program to even greater lows.  “The current wave of school closings is latest result of bipartisan educational policies which began with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and have kicked into overdrive under the Obama administration’s Race To The Top. In Chicago, the home town of the president and his Secretary of Education, the percentage of black teachers has dropped from 45% in 1995 to 19% today. After winning a couple skirmishes in federal court over discriminatory firings in a few schools, teachers have now filed a citywide class action lawsuit alleging that the city’s policy of school “turnarounds” and “transformations” is racially discriminatory because it’s carried out mainly in black neighborhoods and the fired teachers are disproportionately black.”  Common Dreams

In order to understand how misguided this Race to the Top is, we need to take a moment to review just how does it work and how do schools and school districts “win” these federal grants. I apologize for the length of the following quotation, but it is necessary to understand how destructive this program can be.

“Secretary Duncan at his side, President Obama introduced Race To The Top, drawn up by the Bill & Melinda Gates, the Eli Broad, Boeing, Walton Family and other foundations. Under Race To The Top states and school districts are forced to bid against each other for many of the same education dollars they used to receive as a matter of course. The winning districts are those who apply Race To The Top’s four official solutions to their so-called “failing schools.”

Race To The Top’s four federally mandated “solutions,” which are never spelled out by corporate media news outlets, are “school transformations,” “school turnarounds,” “school restarts,” and “school closures.”

Race to the Top defines a school transformation,” its first remedy, as firing the principal and up to 50% of teachers, replacing them with temps and newbies, hiring expensive consultants, often the same folks who drafted Race To The Top guidelines or their cronies, to redesign curriculum and personnel policies. “Transformed” schools tie teachers jobs to test scores (that’s what caused the national epidemic of cheating scandals) lengthening school days with no extra pay, cutting wages & benefits and of course lots more costly and useless tests.

Race To The Top calls its second remedy “school turnaround.” Turnarounds are exactly the same as school transformations, with high priced “run the school like a business” consultants, increased reliance on standardized tests, sanctions for teachers and all new hires sourced from Teach For America type agencies, except that transformations fire up to 50% of school staff, but to be called a turnaround schools must fire at least 50% of school staff.

School restarts,” are the third Race To The Top solution. In a “restart” you close the public school and reopen a new school with new staff and the same connected consultants used for transformations and turnarounds, but all under the management of a private corporation. In other words, you close the public school and open a charter school in the same building. Charters of course can use public money to hire even less qualified teachers, pick and choose the students it serves, and often to generate handsome private profits.

Race To The Top ‘s fourth remedy isschool closure. ” You fire the staff, padlock the school doors and let families take their chances on the free market, or find another public school if they can.

The states and school districts quickest to carry out the most transformations, turnarounds, restarts and school closings are the ones who get to keep or increase their levels of federal funding. Those who drag their feet lose federal education dollars. That’s why it’s a race, but not exactly to the top.”
Common Dreams

That is a lot of information to digest, but the bottom line is that school districts have to fire teachers and close schools to increase their chances of getting the much-needed federal education dollars!  Race to the Top takes the Bush inspired teach to the test nonsense and includes the requirement that school districts must “turnaround” schools by firing teachers and/or closing schools many times in areas that can least afford the closing of any public schools.  Why would President Obama and Sec. Duncan push this kind of abhorrent policy?  Your guess is as good as mine, but my guess is that by firing teachers and forcing schools to close serves the privatization model pushed by these very same foundations and corporations.

Is it a good thing that inner city schools are closed and that qualified and experienced minority teachers are replaced by inexperienced teachers in the schools that remain open? Is it any wonder that the Chicago Teachers Union has fought back by striking and by fighting the discrimination of minority teachers firings in court?  The Seattle teachers are now fighting the teach to the test mentality that is not preparing our students to think critically.

“For the Seattle teachers, the issue is the district decision to require Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests three times per year and to use the results to judge teachers.  The testing juggernaut is out of control and teachers and students are the ones who are directly in its path.  Similarly, when Chicago teachers went on strike in September, a key issue was the misuse of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Both actions are part of a growing national resistance to high-stakes testing that includes not only teachers but parents, students, principals, school boards, and education professors and researchers. This resistance includes a National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing signed by more than 475 organizations and 14,000 individuals.  In Seattle, some parents had been opting their children out of the tests even before the teachers’ boycott. These parents understand that the Garfield teachers have a powerful case against these tests and their uses.”  Yahoo News

Not only is this bad education policy, it continues the corporate backed austerity measures that do nothing but make the economy worse by firing people and making it harder for those same companies to get qualified and educated workers.  Is it possible that the true goal of the Race to the Top program is to make sure the public school system fails and allows for charter and private schools to fill the void at a huge cost to the public?

I realize some schools are not successful, but to make the closure of schools that are working to obtain more Federal dollars is not a progressive policy.  What do you think?

114 thoughts on “Obama’s Race to the Bottom”

  1. Interesting as so many including yourself praised President Bush fake no child left behind when the program was only to give private schools, religious schools and companies like Ignite Learning own by Bush Family, Arts of education/ Foundation excellence education owned by Jeb Bush. Even Florida Director appointed by Bush/Scott took the billions while changing the grades from d to a. At lease we can blame Obama for no child left behind because it is better then telling the truth.

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  3. To Mike Spinell:

    In any discussion of poverty, it is totally dishonest to not direct a significant part of the blame for it on the breakdown of morality and the nuclear family. It is documented statistically that intact traditional families produce higher-achieving children and children who are far less likely to remain in poverty when they reach adulthood. Unfortunately when a country has taken the slide down the muddy slope of immorality that results in over 50% of the babies that survive the decision to abort them are born to unwed mothers, a growing group of poverty-stricken children is the logical result. Not everything can be blamed on luck or race. This is apparent when the stats on white poverty and black poverty show the same or similar differences in results between single-parent children and intact traditional family children. The common denominator is the family life they experience – the environment you mentioned.

  4. For the first time in a long time I find myself generally in agreement with a relatively progressive article. This is, however, far too important to ignore and even more debilitating to the education of our children when all of what rafflaw said is enhanced with the addition of the diabolical effort to collect the personal data on our children into a federally controlled database (another requirement for RTTT funding under the guise of the Common Core State Standards (brought to you, again, by Bill Gates). Being from West Virginia, there is little difference between “rural” and “city” schools and few have had to close as a result of RTTT but then again WV was denied funding because they didn’t score high enough (evidence that the article is obviously on target). Our problem is one of dictatorial control by a twelve-member state board of education that have been declared by our supreme court to be “Equal to the Governor and Legislature” and cannot be overruled by either when it comes to School policy. How they “interpreted” this from the Constitution of West Virginia which states only that the WV State School Board is empowered to “supervise the elementary and secondary public schools of the state” I do not know, but we live with the results. A small but growing group of private citizens are attempting to make enough noise to get the board to reverse their decision to participate in this fiasco any further. There is only a minority of the board members left from the days when they approved Common Core, so there is a slim chance that we can stop it. A loud and vocal minority setting brush-fires of freedom can do more than a majority. Time to speak out on this one, folks. Progressive or Tea Party doesn’t matter. It’s only about the kids and both parties are to blame anyway so keep it non-partisan and fight for the kids.

  5. Raff,

    People dismiss the value of a good teacher…. There are some folks that take an egalitarian view of education once they have there’s. Clarence Thomas comes to mind. It is one of the most rewarding jobs and tearful jobs at the same time.

    I was lucky, I had a great teacher in 10th grade that turned my value for school around….

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