Never before has so much money been made available to reenergize the public school educational system; however, Race to the Top (RTTT) is a double-edged sword. On one side, the reality is that billions of dollars can make a difference. The funds could drive much needed innovation to reengage students, particularly in STEM subjects. Yet, on the other side, we need to remain cognizant that this well intentioned effort could yield unforeseen and unintended consequences. The one that worries me most is that all this hoopla may derail educators, schools, and districts from doing what they need to do for current students. Will the present generation have to pay for the good of future generations as some educators claim?
RTTT criteria focus on tangible data to prove success. Adding exemplary teachers, leaders, and turning around low performing schools moves it away from simply quantitative evaluation. Do we really think that this will happen overnight? We have been struggling to improve the current system for a long time. What will ensure that these factors will improve this time? And how will we deal with the confusion that will ensue while we are testing the success of the outcomes?
In reality, given the time frame of the race, without providing a reflective and thoughtful planning process, many educators and administrators feel that they are not ready or qualified to take part in the race. Many states do not feel that they can take part in RTTT as the rules and regulations of their states do not fall within the requirements of RTTT. Many states, such as California, are trying to pass legislation that will allow the state to change so RTTT requirements can be met. Requirements such as allowing student data to be attached to teacher performance will hopefully bring accountability. Some states, the latest one being Nevada, has decided to opt out of the race as they cannot change their regulations. California, for one, with its deficit of billions of dollars cannot afford to pass when handouts are given to them.
The elephant in the room worrying many is what happens once the money dries up? Will the Feds keep supplying the yearly maintenance funds that are needed to the educational agencies? Or better still, since education is the responsibility of the states, can we insist that they now raise their own funds?
There are many reasons not to do the race. Yet can we afford not to take on the challenge to make improvements? The time has come for educators to be willing and daring to take bold steps towards changing the way they educate. It’s worth the risk!