In the State of the Union, the President aptly describes Race to the Top as a “competition” among the states. As the President put it, his Administration said to the states, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”
Competition is generally good. It gives the consumer a choice. They can choose the best product for their needs. In turn, the providers strive to make their product as good or better than the competition.
But the competition in Race to the Top is not in response to the consumer or user, rather it is in response to the policy dictates of the federal government. It is not a competition to see which states have produced the best product, rather it is a competition to determine which ones have best fallen in line with the policy preferences of the federal government. So when the President said that Race to the Top has “led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning,” he means that those states have signed on to the policies anointed by the federal government –not that they have determined those policies most responsive to parents and most in line with the best interests of students. That’s more like a monopoly than like true competition.
If fully implemented, Race to the Top will end the days when parents can effectively influence education policies by talking to the teacher or the principle or showing up at a school board meeting. Education policy-making will largely become the realm of the special interests that have the means to lobby or influence the federal government. Parents will have no part in those conversations and decisions.
This was demonstrated in Iowa’s clamoring for these funds last year. If this was truly about innovation then there would have been a serious discussion among stakeholders about changes that can be made. Instead it was about the what changes the Legislature had to make to the Iowa Code so that we were eligible for the money.
The true losers in all of this, as McGroarty points out, are the parents who should have the greatest stake in their child’s education.