The White House this week released a report applauding the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top program, but it was so devoid of any actual substance that it makes you wonder why anybody thought this was a good way to promote the president’s signature education initiative.
It’s hard to give a better description of the new report than this one, courtesy of Alyson Klein of Education Week on her Politics K-12 blog, which says that it reads more like a promotional brochure than a policy document, contains very little hard data and ignores a number of Race to the Top hiccups, including delays in tying teacher evaluation to student outcomes that have plagued grant winners like New York, Maryland and Georgia.
There is so little in it that an Education Department official, Sara Gist, director of strategic communications, couldn’t find a whole lot of substance in it to put in this post on the department’s blog, Homeroom.
Massie Ritsch, acting assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the Education Department, said in an e-mail that the report, called “Setting the Pace” (which you can read below), was a department-White House collaboration, with the department staff working “together with White House staff to outline the report’s structure and write, edit and design the document.”
He also said the report was drawn in large part from the department’s state-by-state reports on Race to the Top progress, but, as my Post colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote in this story, the report
was far more positive about the program than the Education Department’s own progress reports, which have regularly pointed out that, while some states have made headway, others have had trouble spending their money and lacked the capacity to follow through on the changes they promised in order to win their grants.
It’s no surprise that the White House would release a report that promotes what it considers the positive aspects of its signature education program, but it did so in such a nebulous way that it does give rise to the question of just how much top officials really know about the enormous skepticism that has been growing around the country among educators and parents regarding the administration’s education reforms.
In fact, a day before the report was released, Indiana became the first state to officially withdraw from the Common Core State Standards, an initiative supported strongly by the administration, and a number of other states are rethinking their involvement. Adopting common standards was one of the criteria in Race to the Top for which states were awarded big points in their applications, along with linking teacher and principal evaluation to student standardized test scores, which has the effect of making these exams more important than ever; and increasing the number of public charter schools.
Layton reported that Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, attacked the White House report, calling it a “PR stunt” that “proves the administration is clumsily trying to take credit for the extraordinary education reform movement happening in our nation’s schools.”
Actually, if Kline really thinks that public education reforms are improving schools, then he really should be thanking Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who used the Race to the Top funding competition and then federal waivers to states for the most onerous aspects of No Child Left Behind to push states to follow the reforms he supports. Like the reforms or hate them, there can be no argument that the Obama administration has had a powerful role in driving the education reform movement that exists today.
Race to the Top critics — and the numbers are growing — say that the reforms have not improved public education but in fact have harmed it by emphasizing high-stakes exams that have resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum and unfair evaluation practices of students, educators and schools. (For example, some teachers are evaluated on the test scores of students they don’t have. Really.)
It all makes you wonder why the White House felt the compulsion to put out a report that isn’t likely to persuade anybody who already doesn’t support Race to the Top. In my book, that’s called a waste of time, money and resources.