Obama’s ‘Race to the Top’

Don’t Leap Before You Look

On Jan. 19, president Barack Obama requested $1.3 billion in additional funding for his $4.3-billion Race to the Top program — an incentive-based program aimed at improving K-12 schools by creating a nationwide competition for the best standardized testing scores. Though the reward would provide some schools more funding — and how can you argue against that — such high monetary stakes might lead them to make hasty, superficial classroom decisions.

Obama’s objectives are certainly admirable. In order to qualify for the program, states must increase the frequency of their teacher evaluations, build data systems to measure student improvement and increase the amount of charter schools.

So the game is on, and Obama’s new request for funding may add more cash to the competition’s jackpot. State education administrators are enrolling in contest-preparation sessions. State legislatures are scrambling to rewrite education laws. As practically every state struggles to bolster its budget, all involved have their eyes on the prize.

This will not allow schools to put enough thought into complex and potentially life-changing curriculum changes. Rick Hess, an education policy analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, expressed worry that Obama is rushing states to alter their system rules. “We’re institutionalizing impatience,” he told USA Today on Nov. 4. “There’s not much room for thoughtful conversation.”

While some states may benefit from the Race to the Top program, the nature of the competition guarantees that many will enter and few will win. In the process, the changes that states make to their schools may be careless and have unintended consequences. The U.S. government needs to think twice before it turns American education into a hyper-competitive game show.

— Arik Burakovsky

Staff Writer

We Don’t Stand a Chance

At first glance, Obama’s Race to the Top initiative is handing schools a seamless shortcut to more cash, but in reality, many states — empty-pocketed California, in particular — has no chance of winning these awards.

With the current economic crisis at hand, California is in no fiscal state to spend extra time raising low-income students’ test scores and amping up specialized teacher-student interaction — all the expensive preparations necessary to receive Obama’s stamp of approval and pocket one of the Race to the Top grants.

Only 10 to 20 states will receive the grants in the first round of awards, and we can already surmise that California will, by default, be stampeded by more financially stable competitors who can actually undergo preliminary reforms.

With $18 billion in cuts accumulating from the last two years alone, our state is irrevocably damaged — or at least sunk to a level that’s out of the initiative’s reach. Not only is there no dollar-stuffed cushions to secure our jump into “better” education, but there is also very little motivation from disgruntled California teachers — who have to endure furlough days and pay cuts — to clean up the government’s mess.

With additional pressure from schools, these peeved educational employees are forced to bolster their students’ performances in class so their institutions can be saved. For many, this seems a hopeless task that will simply eat up time, energy and money.

So next time, Obama, try to make the game easier for those with a disadvantage on the playing field. California is the tortoise here — and slow and steady will not win the race.

— Kelsey Marrujo

Senior Staff Writer

No Harm Entering the Race

President Obama’s newly proposed Race to the Top competition among schools on the national scale would offer an initial $4 billion stipend for education, in an attempt to close the achievement gap.

Thousands of school districts in California, Ohio and Michigan have refused to join the race. One of the only reasons that school districts have declined to participate is that they are concerned with the possible ramifications of its requirements. While Race to the Top asks for full state involvement, individual districts are allowed to opt out without sabotaging their entire state’s eligibility.

But while there is no guarantee that Obama’s race will prove successful, there’s absolutely no harm in trying.

Should particular districts find they can’t keep up with the race’s requirements, they are not obligated to continue. So then the question becomes, why not? At best, Race to the Top provides the opportunity for California to receive $700 million in federal aid. At worst, California would be right back where it is right now.

More than ever before, California needs as much funding as it can get for education. We’re currently ranked 48th for education in the entire country. The race’s $700 million won’t do anything but help a little. It’s time to lace up our shoes and hit the track.

— Cheryl Hori

Associate Opinion Editor

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