Monday, June 27, 2011

What Does It Profit A State To Sell Its Soul?

It was about the last straw for Jabez Stone. “I vow,” he said, and he looked around him kind of desperate −"I vow it's enough to make a man want to sell his soul to the devil. And I would, too, for two cents!”
Stephen Vincent Benet – The Devil and Daniel Webster

Bess, it’s Joe. I’ve come back. I’ve done a terrible thing. I sold my soul to the devil so the team would win… so the Yankees would lose. I thought it would be worth it, but it wasn’t. You’ve got to help me.
Douglas Wallop – Damn Yankees

There isn't enough money left in the Race To The Top grant to dangle in front of cash strapped states to accept federal take over of public education - so U.S. Education Secretary Duncan will dangle waivers instead. Salvation from the ticking time bomb of No Child Left Behind will serve as the new incentive for states to surrender control of public education to the federal government.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the bipartisan legislation that was going to finally bring the changes needed to improve education. The visual and performing arts were going to be placed in the same footing with math, science, and reading. States were going to establish standards that clearly spell out what students needed to know and be able to do at their grade level by the end of the school year. And, based on the standards, new curriculum was going to be written and the achievement gap between groups of students would be closed.

We were naive. Instead of standards-based education, we were given test-based education. Schools, districts, and whole states became judged by multiple-choice norm-referenced standardized tests given once a year. Schools, districts, and whole states that didn’t meet the test cut off score faced punitive measures. So, to avoid punishment, states lowered their standards and schools taught only what would be on the state test at the expense of all other standards.

The test cut off score set by NCLB is raised every few years with the final goal of all students (100%) will be proficient in reading and mathematics by the year 2014. It is now at the point where about 80 % of schools are not expected to make the next cut off score and may face punitive measures. They desperately want a waiver from the cut off score.

No Child Left Behind was up for reauthorization in 2007. Many of the problems with this legislation could have been fixed then. Instead legislation was passed to authorize public funds to be used for a competitive grant called Race To The Top (RTTT). Race To The Top is No Child Left Behind on steroids. To compete for hundreds of millions of dollars cash strapped states had to agree to stipulations that surrendered control of public education to the federal government.

The ultimate goal of Race To The Top is to wrest control of public education from states, local control, and from unions. I really wouldn’t have a problem with any of this if I believed that direct federal control of public schools would be an improvement. I don’t. I believe that federally control public education will have the same quality as federal government issued peanut butter and cheese.

In two rounds of competitive grant application writing, hundreds of millions of dollars were awarded to eleven cash-strapped states, plus the District of Columbia. Most of the other states, in the application process of chasing the RTTT grant money, had to agree to stipulations that surrendered control of public education to the federal government (standards, testing, evaluations, employment, policies, reform, and how public monies can be spent).

Now there is not enough money in the Race To The Top grant to induce states to sell more control of public education to the federal government. A waiver of the next No Child Left Behind test cut off score is the new carrot dangled in front of states. To apply for this waiver states would have to agree to not yet specify stipulations that are aligned with Race To The Top.

U.S. Education Secretary Duncan readily admits that federal government legislation has dumb downed standards, narrowed curriculum, and is “creating a slow-motion train wreck for children, parents and teachers." So, why do we want more federal control over public education?

The federal government take over of public education through purse strings, No Child Left Behind, and Race To The Top legislations is not going to be an effective means of reforming public schools. Different from charter schools, we need to privatize public education without the use of public funds. We now have the technology to create hybrid online schools with learning centers that can be paid for with ads and commercialism and not cost parents tuition.

This approach will save states and the federal government billions of dollars they can no longer afford anyway. It will free educators to radically transform education to meet the needs of 21st century society without the bureaucratic interference of government. The current school system is too broken to be fixed. And we don’t need federal government support or approval to create this new system.

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