No Child Left Behind, proposed by George W. Bush at the outset of his presidency, introduced “standards-based education reform” to school systems throughout the nation. The irony, of course, is that the lowest performing children are financially left behind while those performing at the top of their class are given an even greater advantage. Fits snugly with the Republican philosophy, no?
Additionally, the standards for performance are set by the states individually. Since monetary bonuses are awarded for satisfactory test scores, it creates a situation in which it is beneficial for states to lower the bar on achievement goals to procure the maximum amount of funding. The only economically sensible way to teach is toward the test; whether or not a child learns and retains valuable knowledge is of secondary consequence.
Race to the Top is Obama’s new initiative fueled by the $4.35 billion already allocated for competitive grants in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Rather than award states for setting a lower standard for their students, the program aids schools that can demonstrably meet their progressive reform goals, including “providing intensive support and effective interventions for the lowest-performing schools” while funding positive reform efforts across the board.
Kudos to Schwarzenegger and the California legislature for their unique show of bipartisanship in quickly passing SBX5 1, an urgency measure to help our state qualify for federal Race to the Top funds. Reforms for eligibility in California will include freedom of school choice for parents of children in underperforming schools, an emphasis on proven effective teaching methods and incentives for improvement, and increased transparency so that measurable student progress is the result of funding rather than the means to obtain it.
This show of support for education from Washington and Sacramento should be commended. In a time when educational funding is most often first on the chopping block, a race to the top is exactly what American schoolchildren need. Maybe this time, we won’t leave any behind.