Obama’s Race to the Bottom

President_Barack_Obama

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. @Mespo: Well, yeah. With some definite exceptions, the children of the rich are seldom motivated to work hard at academic pursuits. Growing up, they do not need to try to get into Harvard, they are going to Harvard. They don’t need a good job, because they really do not need to work at any job at all, and if they want to work at a job, they can buy the job by buying a business or funding a startup (or talking their Dad into it). The rich go to ivy league colleges to party and make connections, and put in time for their gentlemen’s “C”, to get a diploma they hang on the wall that impresses people that don’t know the difference.

    The “scholarship” crowd at Harvard, the children of the non-rich, is about 2/3 of the freshman class (earlier I said half, that was wrong), about 1/3 are full-pay legacy students. The freshman class is about 2100 students. There are about 5.5 million high school graduates every year; so the 1400 in the scholarship crowd at Harvard represent the 0.025% (1 in 4000) academic success stories.

    So although the children of the rich will have nutrition and safety and excellent health care and resource filled schools in their developmental background, they are otherwise normally distributed in intelligence. The extremophile heavyweights with whom they attend classes are going to crush them, academically speaking; it is very much like a high school football team (the full pay rich) playing against the NFL champions (the scholarship crowd), and both teams know the difference.

    That does not necessarily breed resentment, the rich are not at risk of losing anything, they can coast to the finish line if they want, and it is probably a good opportunity to meet and greet the brains they want to employ and /or finance and / or partner with after college.

  2. Elaine,

    That was one of the positive benefits of being purchased by Ford… They fixed the wiring harness that kept causing issues for Jags…..

    Raff,

    Maybe when your wife retires from teaching… Then you’ll be able to afford all sorts of new toys… That’s when the real dough starts coming in….. Teacher retirement….. If she’s IEA she’ll do better than AFT….

  3. Tony C:

    “Ivy League college is a business; it is a combination of the best and the wealthiest students that go to the best schools.”

    ****************************

    Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien? (The “best” as enemy of the “good’?)

  4. @Mespo: No it isn’t. Harvard is widely recognized as the “best” school, but within Harvard there is a cultural split, between the legacy brats and (as one legacy brat told me) the people that ‘deserve to be there.’

    Harvard has more freshman applicants that are Valedictorians of their graduating high school class than they have seats in the freshman class, and half of those seats are going to the legacy kids of alumni that get an automatic seat (for fully paid tuition).

    At least a few of the legacy kids will tell you the difference between an “A” and a “B” in Harvard is about 50 IQ points. Ivy League college is a business; it is a combination of the best and the wealthiest students that go to the best schools.

  5. I would like to offer an analogy to the charter school movement. As someone who suffered many years from severe heart disease I learned that certain hospitals, known for the Cardiology Departments, would keep their success statistics high by not dealing with the most severe cases. I think that many charter schools also do this, but what is amazing is that they still prove little better than the “broken” public school system. The hospital where I had my heart transplant is a teaching hospital interconnected with a public hospital, with a clientele that has little money. Their transplant unit has as high a success rate as any in the country. Public institutions can be excellent, if they receive adequate funding and curiously they still are less costly than private institutions.

  6. @Mike: There is a fourth category, I know for a fact. Some of that elite are smart enough to know they just got lucky. Lucky in parents, lucky in school, lucky in brains, lucky in talent, even lucky that they could pursue something out of pure obsession that unintentionally resulted in a windfall.

    In a way, anybody that thinks the poor are failures sells themselves short. Isn’t it the equivalent of claiming their own talent and brains are nothing special? (I doubt they believe that.)

    1. “@Mike: There is a fourth category, I know for a fact. Some of that elite are smart enough to know they just got lucky. Lucky in parents, lucky in school, lucky in brains, lucky in talent, even lucky that they could pursue something out of pure obsession that unintentionally resulted in a windfall.”

      Tony,

      I agree with that which is why if you look I referred to it as the .01%. There are many people who number in the 1% who don’t see their good fortune as privilege and their “right” as “superior” people.

      “it’s axiomatic that the best schools have the best students and vice versa.”

      Mark,

      That may be axiomatic but often the qualitative difference between “best” and “worst” has little to do with innate potential and much to do with environment. “All mean are created equal” refers to opportunity and not ability.

  7. The race to the bottom has many facets.

    Let elderly people ‘hurry up and die’, says Japanese minister

    Guardian

    Why should old angels and young angels have to wait so long to die?

  8. The reform movement is already failing
    By Diane Ravitch
    August 23, 2011
    http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2011/08/23/the-reform-movement-is-already-failing/

    In my nearly four decades as a historian of education, I have analyzed the rise and fall of reform movements. Typically, reforms begin with loud declarations that our education system is in crisis. Throughout the twentieth century, we had a crisis almost every decade. After persuading the public that we are in crisis, the reformers bring forth their favored proposals for radical change. The radical changes are implemented in a few sites, and the results are impressive. As their reforms become widespread, they usually collapse and fail. In time, those who have made a career of educating children are left with the task of cleaning up the mess left by the last bunch of reformers.

    We are in the midst of the latest wave of reforms, and Steven Brill has positioned himself as the voice of the new reformers. These reforms are not just flawed, but actually dangerous to the future of American education. They would, if implemented, lead to the privatization of a large number of public schools and to the de-professionalization of education.

    As Brill’s book shows, the current group of reformers consists of an odd combination of Wall Street financiers, conservative Republican governors, major foundations, and the Obama administration. The reformers believe that the way to “fix” our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers.

    The reformers say that our schools are failing and point to international test scores; they don’t seem to know that American students have never done well on international tests. When the international tests were first launched in the 1960s, our students ranked near the bottom. Obviously these tests do not predict the future economic success of a nation because we as a nation have prospered despite our mediocre performance on international tests over the past half century.

    The last international test results were released in December. Our students ranked about average, and our leading policymakers treated the results as a national scandal. But here is a curious fact: low-poverty U.S. schools (where fewer than 10% of the students were poor) had scores that were higher than those of the top nations in the world. In schools where as many as 25% of the students were poor, the scores were equal to those of Finland, Japan and Korea. As the poverty rate of the schools rose, the schools’ performance declined.

    An objective observer would conclude that the problem in this society has to do with our shamefully high rates of child poverty, the highest in the developed world. At least 20% of U.S. children live in poverty. Among black children, the poverty rate is 35%.

    Reformers like to say — as they did in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” — that we spend too much and that poverty doesn’t matter. They say that teacher effectiveness is all that matters. They claim that children who have three “great” or “effective” teachers in a row will close the achievement gap between the races. They say that experience doesn’t matter. They believe that charter schools, staffed by tireless teachers, can close the gap in test scores.

    Unfortunately, research does not support any of their claims.

    Take the matter of charter schools. The definitive national study of charters was conducted by Stanford University economist Margaret Raymond and financed by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation and the Dell Foundation. After surveying half the nation’s 5,000 charter schools, the study concluded that only 17% got better test results than a demographically similar traditional public school; 37% got worse results, and the remaining 46% were no different from the matched public school. An eight-state study by the Rand Corporation found no differences in results between charter and regular public schools. On federal tests, students in charter schools and regular public schools perform about the same.

    The overwhelming majority of charter schools are non-union. They can hire and fire teachers at will, and teacher attrition at charter schools is higher than in regular public schools. Many studies have shown that charters have a disproportionately small number of students with disabilities or students who don’t speak English. Yet, despite these structural advantages, they don’t get better results. Furthermore, right-to-work states where unions are weak or non-existent don’t lead the nation in academic achievement; most are middling or at the bottom on federal tests. Brill simply refuses to acknowledge these inconvenient facts because the charter movement is a central part of the “reform” claims.

    Research provides no support for Brill’s belief that the teacher is the ultimate determinant of student success or failure. Economists overwhelmingly agree that families, and especially family income, have a larger impact on student academic performance than teachers. Typically, economists estimate that teachers account for 10-15% of student performance; non-school factors influence about 60%.

    And what about the reformers’ claim that three great teachers in a row close the achievement gap? It is a sound bite, not an actionable policy proposal. The reformers can’t point to a single school or district that has actually made this happen.

    The reform movement is already failing. Its remedies don’t work. It ignores poverty, which is the root cause of poor academic performance.

    If we are serious about improving education, we would work to improve both schools and society. We would invest in the recruitment and preparation of career teachers and make sure that every child has a curriculum that includes the arts, history, civics, foreign languages and other subjects. We would also invest in prenatal care so that every child is born healthy and invest in high-quality early childhood education, so that children arrive in school ready to learn. We would stop the budget cutting that is now increasing class sizes and reducing needed services to children.

    Unfortunately, such research-based strategies are not part of today’s reform movement, which is why it will most assuredly end up in the dustbin of history, like so many others.

    1. “An objective observer would conclude that the problem in this society has to do with our shamefully high rates of child poverty, the highest in the developed world. At least 20% of U.S. children live in poverty. Among black children, the poverty rate is 35%.

      Reformers like to say — as they did in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” — that we spend too much and that poverty doesn’t matter. They say that teacher effectiveness is all that matters. They claim that children who have three “great” or “effective” teachers in a row will close the achievement gap between the races. They say that experience doesn’t matter. They believe that charter schools, staffed by tireless teachers, can close the gap in test scores.
      Unfortunately, research does not support any of their claims.”

      Elaine,

      Thanks for Ms. Ravitch’s article of which the essence in the quote above bears repetition.

  9. rafflaw,

    I believe it’s the Jaguars that are always in need of maintenance.

    *****
    Published on Thursday, July 14, 2011 by The Nation
    ALEC Exposed: Starving Public Schools
    by Julie Underwood
    (This article is part of a Nation series exposing the American Legislative Exchange Council, in collaboration with the Center For Media and Democracy.)
    https://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/07/14-12

    Public schools,” ALEC wrote in its 1985 Education Source Book, “meet all of the needs of all of the people without pleasing anyone.” A better system, the organization argued, would “foster educational freedom and quality” through various forms of privatization: vouchers, tax incentives for sending children to private schools and unregulated private charter schools. Today ALEC calls this “choice”—and vouchers “scholarships”—but it amounts to an ideological mission to defund and redesign public schools.

    The first large-scale voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, was enacted in 1990 following the rubric ALEC provided in 1985. It was championed by then-Governor Tommy Thompson, an early ALEC member, who once said he “loved” ALEC meetings, “because I always found new ideas, and then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare [they were] mine.”

    ALEC’s most ambitious and strategic push toward privatizing education came in 2007, through a publication called School Choice and State Constitutions, which proposed a list of programs tailored to each state. That year Georgia passed a version of ALEC’s Special Needs Scholarship Program Act. Most disability organizations strongly oppose special education vouchers—and decades of evidence suggest that such students are better off receiving additional support in public schools. Nonetheless, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, Utah and Indiana have passed versions of their own. Louisiana also passed a version of ALEC’s Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act (renaming it Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence), along with ALEC’s Family Education Tax Credit Program (renamed Tax Deductions for Tuition), which has also been passed by Arizona and Indiana. ALEC’s so-called Great Schools Tax Credit Program Act has been passed by Arizona, Indiana and Oklahoma.

    ALEC’s 2010 Report Card on American Education called on members and allies to “Transform the system, don’t tweak it,” likening the group’s current legislative strategy to a game of whack-a-mole: introduce so many pieces of model legislation that there is “no way the person with the mallet [teachers’ unions] can get them all.” ALEC’s agenda includes:

    § Introducing market factors into teaching, through bills like the National Teacher Certification Fairness Act.

    § Privatizing education through vouchers, charters and tax incentives, especially through the Parental Choice Scholarship Program Act and Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, whose many spinoffs encourage the creation of private schools for specific populations: children with autism, children in military families, etc.

    § Increasing student testing and reporting, through more “accountability,” as seen in the Education Accountability Act, Longitudinal Student Growth Act, One-to-One Reading Improvement Act and the Resolution Supporting the Principles of No Child Left Behind.

    § Chipping away at local school districts and school boards, through its 2009 Innovation Schools and School Districts Act and more. Proposals like the Public School Financial Transparency Act and School Board Freedom to Contract Act would allow school districts to outsource auxiliary services.

    ALEC is also invested in influencing the educational curriculum. Its 2010 Founding Principles Act would require high school students to take “a semester-long course on the philosophical understandings and the founders’ principles.”

    Perhaps the Brookings Institute states the mission most clearly: “Taken seriously, choice is not a system-preserving reform. It is a revolutionary reform that introduces a new system of public education.”

    ALEC’s real motivation for dismantling the public education system is ideological—creating a system where schools do not provide for everyone—and profit-driven. The corporate members on its education task force include the Friedman Foundation, Goldwater Institute, Washington Policy Center, National Association of Charter School Authorizers and corporations providing education services, such as Sylvan Learning and the Connections Academy.

    From Milton Friedman on, proponents of vouchers have argued that they foster competition and improve students’ learning. But years of research reveal this to be false. Today, students in Milwaukee’s public schools perform as well as or better than those in voucher schools. This is true even though voucher schools have advantages that in theory should make it easier to educate children: fewer students with disabilities; broader rights to select, reject and expel students; and parents who are engaged in their children’s education (at least enough to have actively moved them to the private system). Voucher schools clearly should outperform public schools, but they do not. Nor are they less expensive; often private costs are shifted to taxpayers; a local school district typically pays for transportation, additional education services and administrative expenses. In programs like Milwaukee’s, the actual cost drains funds from the public schools and creates additional charges to taxpayers.

    But a deeper crisis emerges when we privatize education. As Benjamin Barber has argued, “public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.” What happens to our democracy when we return to an educational system whose access is defined by corporate interests and divided by class, language, ability, race and religion? In a push to free-market education, who pays in the end?

  10. Thanks for the wonderful links Elaine. I am surprised you have the time since those Bentley’s need so much maintenance work! 🙂
    Mike S.
    You are absolutely correct that the poverty issue is a huge indicator of educational success.

  11. Elaine,

    You don’t inhale….. Heard that phrase before someplace…. I prefer champaign as well….lol…. I suppose even blind monks can do something’s excellent… Ok, he was a monk…. There’s speculation on being blind…

  12. Elaine,

    The way I hear it being told…. Not only do you have chauffeurs… But, butlers, maids and chefs….. Do you still light your hand rolled Cuban cigars with…. 100 dollars bills…. While sipping on brandy….

  13. AY,

    Silly you! Assuming I would buy a used Bentley! With my generous teacher pension, I can afford a previously owned Rolls…and a chauffeur.

  14. Excellent Elaine….

    BTW, I read here that you buy a previously owned vehicle….aka….used car….. I didn’t realize that there was much of a market for Bentleys….

  15. Phony school “reform” agenda takes a beating
    The media barely noticed, but voters in three states rejected the profit-driven fraud that is education “reform”
    By David Sirota
    11/13/2012
    http://www.salon.com/2012/11/13/phony_school_reform_agenda_takes_a_beating/

    Excerpt:
    If your only source of news about American education came from docu-propaganda like “Waiting for Superman,” Hollywood politi-schlock like “Won’t Back Down” and elite-focused national news outlets in Washington, D.C., and New York City, you might think that the so-called education “reform” (read: privatization) movement was a spontaneous grass-roots uprising of good-old-fashioned heartlanders generating ever more mass support throughout the country. You would have no reason to believe it was a top-down, corporate-driven coalition of conservative coastal elites trying to both generally undermine organized labor and specifically wring private profit out of public schools, and you would similarly have no reason to believe it was anything but wildly popular in an America clamoring for a better education system.

    In other words, you would be utterly misinformed — especially after last week’s explosive election results in three key states.

    In Colorado, the out-of-state, corporate-funded group Stand for Children, which previously made national headlines bragging about its corrupt legislative deal making, backed a campaign to hand the state Legislature to pro-privatization Republicans, specifically by trying to defeat Democratic legislators who have stood on the side of public education. Though the group and its affiliated anti-union, pro-privatization allies have become accustomed to getting their way in this state, 2012 saw them handily defeated, as the targeted Democrats won election, giving their party full control of the statehouse.

    In Indiana, the results were even more explicit. There, as the Indianapolis Star reports, Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett became “the darling of the reform movement” by “enthusiastically implement(ing) such major reforms as the nation’s most expansive private school voucher program; greater accountability measures for schools that led to the unprecedented state takeover of six schools last year; an expansion of charter schools; and an evaluation system for teachers that bases their raises, at least in part, on student test scores.” For waging such a scorched-earth campaign against teachers and public education, Bennett was rewarded with a whopping $1.3 million in campaign contributions, much of which came from out of state. According to Stateline, Bennett was underwritten by “some of the biggest supporters of education reform in the country, including Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, billionaire financier Eli Broad and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg,” and NPR reports that he also received big donations from private corporations that stood to profit off his school takeover policies.

    Ultimately, he was able to grossly outspend his underfinanced opponent, local educator Glenda Ritz, by more than $1 million. Yet, in the conservative union-averse state of Indiana, he was nonetheless booted out of office in what the Star called “the Election Night shocker.” That was thanks not to some brilliantly vague personality campaign by Ritz, but to a substantive, laser-focused assault on Bennett’s corporate-driven privatization agenda. As the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported, she “attack(ed) Bennett for his school and district accountability system, voucher program and use of student testing data for teacher evaluations”; “criticiz(ed) Bennett’s policies as funneling taxpayer dollars to private companies”; and slammed Bennett’s corporate donors — all while she “advocated returning local control to districts, ending the current administration’s focus on standardized testing and spending more on early childhood education”; and pushed to “provide more support for low-performing schools instead of threatening them with sanctions.”

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