The Race to the Top grants have been made and Massachusetts will receive a total of $250 million, to be distributed over a four-year period.
That's good for Massachusetts. Very good. Though we should remember at what cost the money came and also take the opportunity to ask a few meaty questions. Let's start with the questions:
- Why the late August release? It's not a great news cycle. And the decisions were supposed to be announced in mid-September -- that would be perfect with the kids back at school and lots of parents thinking about education.
- How did Massachusetts get the highest score of all the states? After all, New York had strong unions support (unlike Massachusetts, where the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers declined to support Massachusetts' application), and also passed a law to evaluate teachers and to use student performance as a portion of that evaluation (unlike Massachusetts, where we outlined aspirations around teacher evals and employing student achievement data). Note that New York also just recently lifted its cap on charters.
- How is it that so few western states got funding? One wonder what California will do now that it did not get the RTT funding: Will it decide to undo its decision to adopt the national standards?
On the benefits, we should keep all of this in context. We spend through state and local expenditures $9 billion every year on K-12 education. This grant totals $250 million in one-time money. It will come over four years. That works out to about 33 cents a student per day.
The money is going to help in a crisis, but it is not going to be enough to do a lot of good, especially because so much of it is going to go to professional development, textbooks, and adjusting all the districts to the new national standards. That's going to cost tens of millions of dollars. So subtract all that out.
Which brings me to my basic point. We've spent well over $90 billion since the start of education reform in 1993, making hard decisions and putting into place a nation-leading reform based on (1) high academic standards, (2) accountability for students, teachers and schools, and (3) charter schools.
That reform took us out of the Minor Leagues (a competition with other states) and put us in the Majors (a race against the top performing nations). Since 2007
- The state has undone accountability, killing off the state's independent school auditing office and the US History graduation exam. Then it introduced "soft skills" into the MCAS. Through this grant process it has committed Massachusetts to new tests that aren't even defined yet.
- The state included many more strings on charter schools, even as they lifted the cap.
- The state, as part of the Race to the Top grant process, has ditched our nation-leading K-12 standards.
So, after $90-plus billion and many years of reform, and many years of success, what's left of the edifice built in 1993? Was all that worth 33 cents a day per child?
So, for today, celebrate. But remember the cost of being penny-wise and pound foolish.
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