Valerie Strauss: The Answer Sheet

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Obama administration's Race to the Top education brand has formally, officially, irrevocably, been launched. On Thursday, we learned who the first 16 finalists are in the $4.35 billion fund competition.

The competitors, 16 states and the District, get a chance to send representatives to woo administration officials with school reform plans tailored to the likes of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Ick.

The whole notion of the administration making its education initiative a kind of race in which states compete for money is counter to the desired goal of providing equal resources to children in all public schools.

Then there's the problem noted by many commentators, including education historian Diane Ravitch, that the initiative is requiring states that want to be funded to adopt practices that claim to be "research based" but, in fact, haven't been shown to be broadly successful at all.

Duncan is promoting charter schools, the privatization of schools and a plan to evaluate teachers by the results of standardized tests taken by students. None of the above has been shown to ensure success, but the government will spend billions forcing states to do them anyway. . . .

California competed but lost, and Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, said why he thinks the enterprise is empty.

"We put forth a solid, thoughtful application," he said. "The systemic reforms we made, we made because they're the right educational strategies. It was an unprecedented opportunity to actually fund the reforms ." . . .

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Lots of people who supported President Obama and had hoped he would make a clean break with No Child Left Behind and its failed emphasis on a high-stakes standardized testing regime are sorely disappointed, even angry. The Race to the Top program is certainly no important break from No Child, and some think it is worse.

With the failing political fortunes of the administration, any effort to boldly reauthorize No Child isn't happening anytime soon.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham called Race to the Top "a doomed bribery scheme." He's right. Ick.

Penalties for hacking?

Should kids who hack into their school's computer system to change grades be charged as criminals and sent to prison if found guilty?

That possibility exists, now that the Montgomery County state's attorney is investigating an episode at affluent Churchill High School in which some students were apparently involved in a scheme to hack into school computers and change the grades of 54 students. . . .

Sending these kids to jail would be counterproductive and, frankly, over the top. But simply fining them is hardly enough punishment.

What would make some sense would be to sentence these kids to many hours of community service during which they help others in less privileged areas learn how to use computers, or fix them, if they have the expertise, and/or be required to take on fundraising efforts to bring computers to schools where there are none.

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