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Brown Vs. Whitman Part 3: The Comparison

In California, Federal on August 6, 2010 at 1:02 pm

While the Federal DOE is thankful to have an EduJobs bill that doesn’t cut any of Obama’s pet programs (although it does cut millions from welfare and financial aid funds), if you’ve been following along, you know that around these parts, that’s not the major storyline. This will be the third part of a three part series on Jerry Brown’s and Meg Whitman’s education platforms in their race for the governor’s seat. Today, I’ll go through a comparison of their policies. The easiest way to go about his is probably category by category. I’ll have a little scorecard to go along with it.

I couldn't resist this graphic from the San Jose Independent Examiner. Neither will win the looks contest from these pictures, but does one have a stronger education body of policy?

Higher education

Both Whitman and Brown have major selling points when it comes to higher ed. Whitman wants to give more money to the UCs and Cal States. Brown on the other hand wants to revamp the California Master Plan to make the system work with 21st century goals in mind, rather than the stratification that was set 50 years ago. Part of this includes online courses and making sure the community college system is aligned with the UCs and CSUs.

The point goes to Brown. He has a much more specific idea of what he wants to see happen in higher ed.
Brown: 1 Whitman: 0

Teacher quality

Both candidates want to recruit better teachers, but neither really says how this is going to happen. The closest thing that either candidate has for a recruitment plan is that Meg Whitman wants easier pathways to alternative certification, specifically for STEM subject teachers. This is a great idea, but it seems incomplete. Just making it easier to become a teacher is not going to necessarily attract better candidates. Her better idea is the idea of bonuses for outstanding teachers. While this might not attract better teachers, it could serve to retain good ones. Jerry Brown’s strength lies in his idea for teacher prep. He wants to see changes in how teachers are brought into the field. His idea actually has some major similarities to the Urban Teacher Residency model. To bring that to a large scale would be a great challenge, but it could be monumental in its effect. He also includes an idea for ways that teachers can move up, rather than keeping the same responsibility level for their entire careers.

This point goes to Brown. Again, he seems to have a very specific plan on what he’d like to see with real interventions.
Brown: 2, Whitman: 0

Education Funding

This is the topic that gets the most people riled up, although I think honestly it probably has among the least effects on students. You can argue that crowded classrooms and poor facilities result in poor performance, but I go back to the fact that money spent has little or no correlation to achievement. Whitman thinks that there should be less administrative spending and more in the classroom. She wants to cut a lot of the overhead so money can go to more direct funding of the classroom. Both candidates favor changing the formulas for classroom funding. Brown wants there to be fewer than 20 categories, while Whitman thinks there should be a few simplified grants for which districts can apply. They both think the spending should be more in the hands of the schools. Whitman says she’d take money saved from cutting welfare, whereas Brown says he’d save money from cutting prison programs.

This one is a tie. The only thing that really stands out in funding is Whitman’s idea to cut administrative expenses in favor of classroom spending. As I pointed out yesterday, there’s not much evidence this would lead to better performance.
Brown: 2.5, Whitman: .5

School innovation

This is an area where there are pretty clear-cut differences. Whitman is for abolishing the charter cap. That would allow for charters to blossom and create an environment with a penchant for change. Brown doesn’t want to be so hasty. Instead, he suggests that schools be given more freedoms and says that districts should be encouraged to be more innovative. I don’t really see how he expects these things to happen.

This point goes to Whitman. Brown really seems to be a waffler on this one, probably because of his large campaign contributions from a certain organization.
Brown: 2.5, Whitman: 1.5

School performance

A big part of Meg Whitman’s education policy is the idea to grade all schools A through F and then allow parents of failing schools choices of either allowing their student to transfer or to make it into a charter. I think parental involvement is important, but parents aren’t experts when it comes to education. They should have input, not control. A clear system of accountability could be very useful, though. Brown’s focus when it comes to school performance is on the tests. He thinks the testing system needs a big overhaul. Tests should be faster, more accurate, and throughout the year to gauge growth better.

Both candidates have decent ideas that are very different, so it’s hard to give this point to one of them. I’ll call it a tie.
Final score: Brown: 3, Whitman: 2

Feel free to change the scores for things you believe in to determine who you find the better candidate for education. Maybe you think charters are too dangerous or perhaps you really think there needs to be more funding for higher education. What’s clear is this: Jerry Brown has a lot more ideas when it comes to education. This could be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you look at it. It’s obvious his experience both as a founder of charters and a former governor makes him more aware of education issues. He tends to be more vague on a lot of his points, while Whitman strives to be straightforward, but I give him the edge when it comes to the policy potentials. Remember of course, that these are just platforms, so they don’t guarantee decision-making skills in themselves. Neither candidate seems to be terrible when it comes to education, but Brown falls a bit ahead of Whitman, it seems.

Backward March!

In Federal on July 29, 2010 at 1:47 pm

The National Urban League, which is having its centennial convention this week, backed off of its criticism of President Obama's education agenda.

Michele McNeil reports that a group of civil rights organizations who released a document criticizing Obama and the Department of Education’s reforms have done an about face. Despite originally calling for Race to the Top and other recent reforms to be dismantled, three of the groups now say the document was released too early and do not support it. Instead, they say that they agree for the most part with what the Administration has done. Hugh Price, former president of the Urban League, one of the original organizations signing the document, called what the White House has done the “most muscular federal education policy I’ve ever seen.” This comes after Duncan said that he thought the criticisms were unwarranted and that the DOE’s policies have been particularly effective for minorities.

President Obama today spoke at the National Urban League’s 100th Anniversary Convention, pressing for support of his actions, saying that the pushback is due to “a general resistance to change, a comfort with the status quo .” He called education the “economic issue of our time” and said that the reforms that have passed are all about accountability. In the end, it seems the critics have backed off, whether from fear or from a feeling that they were being to hasty. The Reverend Al Sharpton, who was supposed to be one of the speakers at a press conference for the document on Monday that was eventually cancelled, said he agrees with the president and is “prepared to fight for a lot of what he’s saying.”

The Obligatory Race to the Top Update

In California, Federal on July 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Well, there are lots of things going on in education these days, despite school being out for most of the country. The number one story of course, has been federal spending on education and specifically, Race to the Top. Well, specifics on the Race have been quiet for a bit, but the DOE just announced that there are 19 finalists for Round Two. Even though there are more states that are finalists than not (17 losing out), this seems to be about the number expected. Michele McNeil and Lesli Maxwell actually correctly predicted 17 of them. Only Arizona and Hawaii were surprises to them. Arizona made an incredible improvement, considering they were 40th the first time. I suppose requiring teachers not to have accents didn’t hurt their chances. The number of finalists is no surprise, though. In the first round, there were 15 finalists with only two winners. This time, Secretary Duncan said he expects 10-15 winners.

While the announcement is positive, Ed Sector’s Rob Manwaring questions the timing. Because the deadline for adopting the Common Core is August 2nd, states who are not finalists may have less reason to make moves to put them in place. He points out that of the eight states that applied for RttT and haven’t adopted the Common Core yet, only California is a finalist. That means Alabama, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, and Washington have all lost the incentive of Race to the Top. As the head of one of the test consortia, I’d expect Washington to go ahead and adopt the standards anyway, but what about the others? Perhaps, they’ll have second thoughts now. Money is a big draw. New York’s Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, said she’d love for New York to be able to do what they’ve proposed in their application, but doesn’t think it can happen without the money from the federal government. Of course, Duncan is playing the line that all the states should do what they propose, whether or not they get the money, but lots of states are having budget problems. New York’s budget is four months late. California has been cutting and cutting and still having incredible problems.

The Hechinger Report’s Justin Snider has a list of who he thinks will win. (Hint: not too many big states). If California, New York, and Florida were all to win, that would take up half of the money left. Don’t think that the DOE isn’t thinking politically in this one. They’ll make sure the states that win are not only the ones with the best shots of enacting their reforms, but the ones that will have the most political impact, too. A win for California or New York would be great for those states, but Florida is much more of a swing state. Will that affect the winners? Hopefully not, but you can’t rule it out.

Updates: Liz Willen from Hechinger has a great analysis of the changes Arizona made to go from 40th to a finalist.

Common Core: Setting the Standard

In Federal on July 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm

It seems like I should slow down and do a little more editing on these posts. Apologies to “the” Heather Zavadsky and Mr. Michael Winerip. I’ll take my time with this one today, even though it’s pretty exciting.

The Education Gadfly reports that the Fordham Institute just released its comparison of the Common Core standards to each state’s standards. The brief description says that the standards are better than 37 states in ELA and 39 in math. I find that a little misleading, though. Those numbers only count those states that scored worse. There are only six states with better ELA scores and five with better math scores. What’s more, the scores are based on two factors: content and rigor (worth 7 points) and clarity and specificity (worth 3). The Common Core standards were designed with flexibility in mind. They receive a 2/3 in both ELA and math, mainly because they are only politically viable that way. For example, the report says the ELA standards “would be more helpful to teachers if they attended as systematically to content as they do to skills.” Clearly, if they were specific in literature content, it would be more of a hurdle to get states to agree to them. The most legitimate problems seem to be in high school math, where “the presentation is disjointed and mathematical coherence suffers.” However, both ELA and math get high marks in content and rigor. ELA is 6/7; only California, Indiana, DC, and Massachusetts are better. In math, they get a perfect 7/7. Hard to beat that. You can see the list of state scores here.

So this begs the question, is it worth it for states to adopt the new standards? For all but those four, I don’t see any reason not to. Aside from being equivalent if not better standards than virtually every state, having unified standards adds strength to comparability. It also reduces costs. Every child in the US could potentially take the same exams, so instead of designing 51 different tests, those states that join could the movement could all have the same one. I don’t know about you, but I find this extremely exciting. Standards and assessment could be revolutionized. Of course, standards are not the end of the story. Strong assessments and curricula designed around the standards are necessary to ensure that they are implemented most effectively. This is why I have said the “Race to the Test” is so important.

As for DC and the three states that had better ELA standards? I suppose it’s hard to recommend telling them to dumb down their standards. There should be a lot of thought that goes into whether it’s worthwhile. If the standards are only marginally different, it may be positive in the long-run, due to the benefits of shared resources. Two of those, DC and Massachusetts, will be voting this week on whether to join, so we’ll see what they think soon. Twenty-seven states already have and another dozen or so are expected in the next two weeks before the August 2 deadline. Perhaps those that adopt and want to improve on the standards could include additional standards and clarification for any vagueness involved in the current ones. If you’re interested, here’s a map of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards that will be updated when new states join. Below is the map of the current ones as of  this posting.

As of today (7/21), 27 states have adopted the Common Core and another dozen or so are expected in the next few weeks.

UPDATE: The Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously to  the Common Core movement. DC is up next.

Good As Gold?

In Federal on July 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm

We’ve all heard that Massachusetts is head and shoulders above other states when it comes to their standards. It is generally accepted that they have the most rigorous standards in the country. Their state board of education said as much in March when it came to adopting the Common Core standards – they were too weak and would be a downgrade from Massachusetts current standards. Thus, it comes as a surprise to find that Massachusetts’s Commissioner of Secondary and Elementary Education, Mitchell Chester, has endorsed the new standards and recommended that the state adopt them. Initially, Chester was wary of them. He worried that they would be a downgrade. Now, after spending time analyzing them, he says they’re better than even Massachusetts’s high standards. He’s not the only one, either. Today, two former MA Education Commissioners have put their weight behind the switch. Robert Antonucci and David Driscoll called the standards “an advancement over our already strong Massachusetts standards.”

The kicker is the timing. The Board of Elementary Education is meeting tomorrow to discuss whether to adopt the Common Core with a vote due on Wednesday. What seemed like a long-shot after the release of the preliminary draft of the standards seems to have gained traction with the view that the bar was raised with the final version in June. Last year, if you would have asked most experts, they would have thought Massachusetts would’ve stuck with their plan, maintaining the system because of its effectiveness. The state has consistently topped the country in its NAEP scores and even ranks high globally. There are some calling the decision to switch to the new standards foolish, but there is a good chance the first step toward adopting the Common Core standards will be occur this week.

If the state whose standards are considered the gold standard joins the Common Core movement, will it set the bar? (Oh, I kill myself)

If Massachusetts decides to go through with the adoption, there will be little for any state to say in the matter. With the clear leader joining the pack, states like Virginia will have a hard time arguing that their standards are too good to be “downgraded.”

Why Oh Wyoming?

In Federal on July 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Now, I’m really confused. Remember a few days ago when I said Wyoming was one of those states? The ones that are so local-control centered that they will never take part in a national initiative like Race to the Test? Well, yesterday to my surprise, Wyoming announced they are adopting the Common Core Standards. The AP reported that state schools superintendent Jim McBride called the Core Standards, “a significant improvement over the standards that we currently have in Wyoming.” The Wyoming Education Department said they were a state-led effort, which is probably the reason they were OK with adopting them. They don’t have to tell people they’re bending to Washington if it’s a “state-led” initiative. The Core Standards reportedly start math earlier and are more rigorous in English than Wyoming’s current ones. Wyoming is now the 14th state to adopt the Common Core.

Wyoming. Famous for... um... low population density?

Is this a turning point, either for Wyoming or Common Core? I’m still having trouble reading Wyoming. I’m not sure whether they’ll join either of the assessment consortia. Common sense would say “yes”, since they will now need new state tests. PAWS will no longer be applicable (yes, that’s the actual name of their state assessment). But common sense doesn’t always guide political decisions. Whether or not Wyoming does anything further to join the fray, I do think this is big news for Common Core. It’s hard to think states, even ones with decent standards, won’t start wondering how Wyoming could possibly be more progressive than them (outside of Alaska and Texas, that is). I predict that within the next month or two, we will see the majority of states signing on, perhaps as many as 40 or 45 by the end of the year. The standards are out in public now and decision makers can clearly see whether their standards measure up. So can their constituents. It’s also an easy financial decision to make. Why spend tens millions of dollars paying Pearson to develop tests for you when you can just adapt ones that other states are already making? R&D is already being done. All you need to do is pay people to reassure yourselves that the legwork was done well.

Chaos and Teachers’ Voices

In Federal, LA on July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

As I was reading Joanne Jacobs’s blog today, I came across this tidbit from Organized Chaos. Its author, Ann Bailey-Lipsett, was invited to a panel discussion with Education Sector. You can see the whole video here. Here’s what Jacobs quoted that interested me:

With first graders this process usually starts out in a few different ways.

The “structure-seekers” ask a lot of questions like “Where do I put my pencil?” “What is the right answer?” and “Do you want us to use blue paper or light blue paper?” while the “oh good, freedom! Let’s see what we can do/get away with” group gets busy making something happen. Not necessarily the right thing, mind you, but paper gets cut, glue bottles are out, excited chatter starts. Then another group, of course, the “run and hiders” manage to sneak into the classroom bathroom, or into the classroom library . . .  All the while, the “I have the right answer” group of children is walking around the room telling everyone else what to do with utmost confidence. And of course, because they are 6 and 7, they end up crying, stamping their feet, and swearing that they are not Susie/Jamie/Max’s friend because Susie/Jamie/Max wont listen to their idea.

Which is, actually, somewhat similar to what’s going on in the education-sphere as we all react to Race to the Top, and the (possible?) changes in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The act formally known as NCLB).

Some states immediately got busy applying for RttT grants, while others refused to participate in the process. Some are not acknowledging that any change is occurring and will not until they’ve seen progress from other states, while some, who comfortably followed NCLB, are still waiting for specific instructions. Even in the room today, as I listened to the debate over how much students’ standardized assessments should play into teacher evaluation I couldn’t help feel that this how we are reacting to the discussion even on a personal level. Some of us are the bossy first graders announcing we know what the answer should and should not be. Some of us figure it will all play out in the end and we’re just along for the ride, while others look at this as a blank check to start some change.

Was this classroom full of 6-year-olds or policy-makers?

I really enjoyed Bailey-Lipsett’s insights, so I figured I’d look a little deeper and see what the rest of her blog post had to say. I thought a few of her points were really important. First of all, there is a worry that this method of being “tight on goals, loose on means” as Duncan has said can backfire. Bailey-Lipsett says she named her blog “Organized Chaos” specifically because of the craziness that results in these similar methods. Everyone has a different reaction and it takes a lot of energy to get to the end. However, after thinking about it, she realizes that with the right constraints, she ends up with better products in her classroom than when she has more structure. The idea behind the methods is clearly that with so many people trying many different things, there will be a big mixture of successes and failures from which to learn. Those lessons can then be applied in the future. If we only try one method, we can only know whether that one method worked. If we try many, there are many lessons to be learned.

Another point that of worry for her is the part of teachers in all of this. This has been a particularly contentious issue recently. The Administration has said many times that they want teacher input, but most teachers don’t feel like they are a part of the process. They don’t even feel much connection to the process, since it takes time for any of the new initiatives to take effect. Schools are still caught up in whether or not they will make AYP, pitting teachers against a system of punishment and blame. She said Brad Jupp pointed to the ability of unions to be the voices of teachers in all of this, but to her, in the current climate, that’s not feasible. Teachers join unions for protection from lawsuits, not as a place to voice their opinions. Perhaps that is the critical point that needs to be made. The unions have become powerful in many places because of their large membership, but there are so many teachers who are members that don’t even follow what their own unions are doing. If you thought national voter turnouts were terrible, you should see union voting. Rates of under 20% are not unusual.

One solution would be to create a grassroots movement to get teachers more involved in their unions. Young teachers with new ideas could actually participate and make a difference. I had a discussion with some others about this very thing. Within UTLA it literally only takes a handful of votes to get elected as a delegate in the House of Representatives. Get some people together and you can have your voice heard. While this grassroots approach has potential, I am a top-down kind of guy. I think to get things done quickly, people at the top need to make them happen. Perhaps instead of dealing with unions (which also leaves out all those who don’t belong to them), the administration should be looking to create ways for teachers to have input. Task forces and advisory committees could be formed and polls taken to see what teachers want. Why should it be so hard to find out what teachers think?

What do you think? How can teachers be heard better? Tonight, I’m off to a screening of “Waiting for Superman.” I’m sure you’ll hear all about it tomorrow.

I don’t get it…

In Federal on July 5, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I try to stay on top of education developments by subscribing to a wide range of publications. I’m up to reading about 20 blogs and newsfeeds to try to stay on top of things. While many of these publications seem to tow a similar line, I also subscribe to a few that are just out there sometimes. The one that stands out the most is Schools Matter. Often, I think a more apt name might be “Teachers Matter (more than students).” I can often understand the concern for teachers’ rights in the current political climate. A lot of people are worried about their jobs.

If you can’t tell by now, I generally disagree with the way that many put status-quo-teachers’ opinions over the needs of students. Please note that I specifically said status-quo teachers and not all teachers. Many teachers are progressive. I do not believe that teachers’ unions reflect the progressive attitudes that many teachers have. At a national convention of the National Educators’ Education Association this past Saturday, there were calls of defiance against Barack Obama and Arne Duncan. Notably, no White House representatives were invited for the first time in two years. NEA president, Dennis Van Roekel, said on Saturday,  “Today our members face the most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment I have ever experienced” and when referencing the Obama administration’s actions to date said, “This is not the change I hoped for.” I am willing to be that many if not most teachers do not feel the same way. The current administration has dumped over $100 million into education, most of that not even reform-based. Perhaps he forgets that last year over $90 million was given to states to keep teachers on payrolls. The problem is that those like Van Roekel equate pro-change with anti-educator. Believe me, I think that teachers are the single most important part of a classroom today. That is precisely why I believe that current policies of last-hired, first-fired in so many places are themselves anti-educator. Educators will not regain the trust of Americans until they are an elite profession. Until a district can get rid of a bad teacher without having to spend close to $300,000 and two years, there will be way too many bad teachers.

Hopefully, there won't be too many that get indoctrinizated.

And while there are some obvious reasons that many support the NEA and the AFT, I am more mystified by other things that come out of Schools Matter, often from Jim Horn. His post today exemplifies the backwards thinking that can come from trying to be against everything. Aside from the fact that, like most of his posts, this one just copied and pasted from other sources and no actual reasoning is supplied (he often just writes a few sentences of angry preface), it is supremely clear that Horn makes very little sense. Horn copied from a Press of Atlantic City article entitled, “Almost 3,000 New Jersey seniors have yet to graduate after failing tests” and renamed it “NJ Proficiency Test Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” I would look at the original article and lament the horrendous educations these students must have been given to have been allowed to pass enough classes to graduate, but not be able to pass a test, which is given in 10th grade and in all reality tests at about an 8th or 9th grade level. If a student can’t understand algebra, it’s not because of a test; it’s because they weren’t taught well enough. Horn of course thinks that the teaching must have been OK, so it’s got to be the test that was a failure. The real title of the article should be “NJ Proficiency Test Shows 13 Years of Poor Instruction Blocks 3,000 from Diplomas.” Until people like Horn stop claiming that the tests are civil rights problems and realize that the real problem is inadequate instruction that English Language Learners and students from urban schools receive, they just won’t get it.

Assessing the Assessments

In Federal on July 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Happy 4th! I’m about to be patriotic and read the SMARTER and PARCC applications for Race to the Test. Both are enormous, so I’m sure I won’t catch every detail of their applications. PARCC hasn’t even put their entire application online because it’s so big. Before I begin, I’ve got a few opening thoughts.

Assessment Applications and Fireworks: What could be better?

First of all, I think the state involvement is not what you’d expect. SMARTER has 31 states while PARCC has 26. Of course, the usual states aren’t participating: Texas, Alaska, and Wyoming. A few other states aren’t in on it either, though: Nebraska, Minnesota, and  Virginia (notice that Wisconsin is participating, even though Rep. Obey wanted to reduce the funding to it to RttT). It’s notable that none of those states applied for Race to the Top. Minnesota and Virginia claim that their standards are higher than the CORE standards on which the assessments will be based. While Minnesota may have some basis for their claim, all seven states ahead of them in the strength of their standards according to Education Next, Virginia ranks 40th among states in standards rigor. I’m having a hard time believe a C would bring down a D. Of course, the timeline could have something to do with this. States had to sign on to being a part of these consortia before the CORE standards were even released, so states didn’t have much to go on. By most accounts, the standards are higher than most if not all states currently, so that’s not a worry to those participating.

Aside from the states not participating, some states are participating in both of the consortia. Their staffs must be working overtime. Those in both are Colorado, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. It’s important to note that those states are considered “Advisory States” within SMARTER, rather than “Governing States.” Here’s a graphic to explain what that means. Most likely, they are only decision-makers in PARCC, but are working collaboratively with SMARTER on the R&D parts. This might actually prove handy to SMARTER. They get more states doing work for them (31 to 26), but have fewer states arguing over what to do (19 to 26).

Other observations? Going back to the state standards rigor, 9 out of the top 10 states participating are in SMARTER (Massachusetts isn’t), while only three are in PARCC (New Hampshire and New Jersey are in both). The states not participating are ranked 8 (MN), 23 (WY), 27(AK),  40(VA), 45(TX), and 49 (NE). It’s clear that it’s local-control politics (read Conservatives), rather than worry of low standards that is keeping these states out of participating. I suppose it’s just as well. That means that Virginia, Texas, and Nebraska can’t drag down the quality.

CORRECTION: After reading Bill Tucker’s post, I realize I overlooked the organization of PARCC. Those states that are advisory within SMARTER and are also in PARCC are also only advisory in PARCC. In addition, Iowa and South Dakota are advisory within SMARTER and not in PARCC, while California, Mississippi, and Arkansas are advisory within PARCC, but not in SMARTER. That means that PARCC only has 11 governing states, 8 less than SMARTER. Tucker also points out that the openness of the structure allows states to join or become governing states fairly easily, so it is likely that the consortia one stay in this configuration.

Does this flood have a rainbow ending?

In Federal on July 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm

It seems like every ed blog has something to say about Rep. Obey’s EduJobs ammendment. There seems to be a lot of anger. Obviously, this is a direct blow to Obama’s reform plans. Democrats are lining up in opposition to progressive changes to education (or at least ignoring them by voting against them). I think Flypaper’s Stafford Palmieri has an interesting take. She says that the reduction from $3.4 billion to $2.9 billion could actually be a blessing in disguise. Just a few weeks ago, people were lamenting the possible egg on the ED’s face if they had to give some of the money back to the treasury because there aren’t enough states with worthwhile, feasible proposals. Now with less money, they can focus on the stronger applications. In the first round, only two states had strong enough applications to get money. Duncan would need to pick upwards of 15 states in the second round to put another $2.5 billion out there.

What's the big deal about a cloud, silver lining or not?

Mickey Muldoon responds by asking “What if silver lined a harmless cloud?” He poses three questions that I’d like to answer simply:

1. Not considering the cost or effects of a teacher bailout, would cutting the Race to the Top fund by $500M be better overall for American education?

I think this depends on what Duncan would do if he didn’t find enough strong applications. My initial reaction is that cutting money isn’t better. The Ed Department should have the money that it needs to fund the programs that it thinks can work. There’s no way to tell at this point how good the applications are, so who knows whether all of the money is needed? Even though some think that it might make the Education Department look bad to have money and not use it, wouldn’t it seem sensible of them? Everyone is always complaining about waste. The government is spending too much. Why not applaud a decision to only use as much as necessary.

2. If your answer to part (1) is no, then here’s the natural follow-up: is $4.35B the magic number?

I think it’s obvious from my first answer that there isn’t a magical number. We can only know how much to spend on a program after we know what the program involves. What if there were 20 states in round two that learned enough from round one to have proposals worth funding? Maybe more money is needed. It’s probably safe to say that the amount on the table is at least sufficient. Cutting 15% of the rest of the pot ($1 billion has already been earmarked for the assessment competition and round 1) might be OK, but it could also mean cutting a state out that was going to make some progress.

3. If Race to the Top was really worth $4.35B this time around, should it be funded into perpetuity?

If it was worth it, then I think it’s wise to continue it as long as states have work to do, such as getting rid of charter caps and seniority-based layoffs. The proper question is, “Was Race to the Top really worth $4.35 billion?” Compared to the $10 billion that may end up being spent to keep teachers in the classroom regardless of their proficiency, it’s probably going to end up worth it. We can’t really say yet, since we it will take some time to see the results of the changes states make.

Of course, this discussion could end up moot if the bill doesn’t even pass the Senate. We’ll just have to wait and see, since they are on break until next week. In the meantime, I’m going to look at the two applications for Race to the Test. Bill Tucker thinks it may be more important than Race to the Top.