Instead Of Pushing For Education Reforms, McDonnell Quits Race To The Top

In March, two states — Delaware and Tennessee — won the first round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, an initiative in the stimulus package that awards competitive grants to states that put together ambitious education reform efforts. Now that the competition is moving into its second round, states that didn’t win are retooling their education laws, in an attempt to better their applications.

For instance, New Jersey’s teacher’s union, “after several days of marathon negotiations,” reached an accord with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) to support the state’s application, complete with reforms to “merit pay, teacher seniority, evaluations and tenure.” New York City officials and the State Assembly have also reached a tentative deal “to more than double the number of charter schools,” to bolster that state’s Race to the Top chances. This week, Maryland’s State Board of Education “endorsed a proposal for common academic standards in math and English” that’s been drafted by the National Governor’s Association, which “could help Maryland win points on its application.”

However, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) decided that he’d rather quit:

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell pulled Virginia out of President Obama’s Race to the Top school reform derby Wednesday, a turnabout after he had pushed hard for the state to get a share of the $4 billion in federal funding…“The problem is that the way they have structured this program to mandate that we adopt a common core of standards to replace the Standards of Learning is unacceptable,” McDonnell told reporters in Richmond. […]

Our standards are much superior. They’re well accepted. They’re validated. All the education leaders have a comfort level with those. So once again, a federal mandate to adopt a federal common core standard is just not something I can accept, nor can most of the education leaders in Virginia, nor can most of the legislators.”

From the beginning, it’s been no secret that adopting the governors association’s common standards would provide a boost to applicants. And Virginia had no problem with the rules when it applied for money in the first round. “Of course I think we’re deserving of any funding,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright at the time. Virginia’s application didn’t garner much support, however, as the state came in 31st out of 41 applicants.

While McDonnell claims that Virginia’s standards are “much superior,” the truth is that they leave a lot to be desired, particularly in math. According to the Fordham Institute, “in the upper grades, progress in algebra is slow, with students not introduced to the concept of slope by the end of eighth grade,” and “there are serious deficiencies in the Algebra I and II and Geometry requirements, especially in the latter’s development of mathematical reasoning.”

Virginia’s charter school law is also lackluster, as it only allows local school boards to act as authorizers, which has severely limited the number of charters in the state. This year there were only 4 charter schools operating in Virginia, serving 250 students. And instead of addressing these problems — and attempting to receive federal money to push reform along — McDonnell is simply taking his ball and going home.