After the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong sits in third place. Amazing. What an athlete. The Tour de France has to be one of the most grueling events in competitive athletics and he continues to put himself in a position to win in that legendary bicycle Race to the Top…
Now that has a ring to it: “The race to the top.” And evidently President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think so too. In fact, they have set aside BILLIONS of federal dollars as part of a stimulus package to encourage states to “race to the top” in school reform.
At this point in the race, however, we don’t have many details. For example, no one seems to know what the rules are for the race or where exactly the “top” is. There definitely is a “Race to the Top Fund” that is a component of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved in February, but there are no guidelines to tell you when you win or when you lose or even when you can climb off your freakin bicycle and have a cold gatorade.
Pundits seem to think there are some clues in Duncan-speeches that suggest that the states on the inside track in this epic Race to the Top are those who 1) are committed to improving low performing schools; 2) states that are lifting caps on charter schools; 3) states that are big on improving teacher quality; 4) states that are moving their data systems into the 21st century, and 5) states that are on board with the whole “national academic standards” drive.
Given that description, states that are in the back of the pack about a small French village away from the leader group, include:
• Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—because they don’t want to play the national standards game.
• Indiana and Maine because they are considered “unfriendly” to charter schools. Shame on them.
• California, New York, and Wisconsin who are all guilty of constructing “firewalls” between student and teacher data.
• Illinois because, in general, their school system (even under the leadership of Arne Duncan) just suck.
The current leaders… that is, those who are vying with Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey include: Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (Nearly 70% of the schools that re-opened in New Orleans after Katrina are charter schools!)
So I wonder… as the facts and the details of the Race for the Top Fund come to light, what kind of pressures will individual states bring to bear on their schools? California is facing a $26.5 billion deficit and while the federal money won’t bridge that gap, it would certainly encourage re-investment into the system. It would suggest we are headed down (or up) some positive path and maybe that we have a half a clue of how to catch up with the race leaders and sprint to the finish.
I wonder if Arne Duncan is prepared for the kind of innovation that the lure of $5 billion can buy.
Billions of dollars on the table. Bragging rights. A poorly fitting yellow jersey that nevertheless looks pretty nice on the cover of Sports Illustrated. New standards and expectations.
I suspect that high stakes testing is about to get higher stakes.