Yesterday, applications for the second round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program were due. Several states chose not to participate in this round, after failing to approve the reforms necessary to be competitive for the $3.4 billion in grants that remain available.
One of those states is Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry (R) elected, once again, to not submit an application. Last time, he characterized his decision as a stand for states rights, and he’s reprised that rhetoric for this round. However, Perry, like Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) yesterday, also claimed that the application’s emphasis on adopting common academic standards designed by the National Governors Association would weaken his own state’s standards:
“This administration’s attempt to bait states into adopting national standards is an effort to undermine states’ authority to determine how their students are educated, and is clearly aimed at circumventing laws prohibiting national standards,” Gov. Perry said. “Abandoning state standards and adopting new nationalized standards would cost Texas taxpayers $3 billion, and would likely weaken the rigorous college- and career-ready standards and assessments already in place in our state.”
For one thing, Perry is still mischaracterizing a set of standards designed by governors as some sort of federal mandate. And if Texas wanted to go above and beyond the standards laid out by the governors, it would be free to do so, while still earning points on its Race to the Top application. The program’s executive summary makes that abundantly clear.
But also, as the Dallas Morning News noted, the standards that Perry is so quick to defend “are set by the elected State Board of Education, which just earned national attention for setting social studies curriculum that has been criticized by educators and others as being politically driven.” That criticism is well deserved, as the social studies curriculum includes emphasizing conservative figures like Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schlafly, downplaying the contributions of the civil rights movement, playing up clashes with Islamic cultures, and even attempting to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy.
Texas is currently 49th in the country in percentage of adults who’ve completed high school and one-third of high school freshmen never make it to graduation. The Houston Chronicle took Perry to task for his stance on Race to the Top, saying that it “echoes Perry’s empty threat to secede from the U.S. and to turn down federal stimulus funds (without which Texas wouldn’t have been able to balance its last budget). Unfortunately, that sort of grandstanding seems to poll well among potential voters in the Republican primary. But it’s no good for Texas — or for the U.S.“