Earlier this week, a coalition of civil rights groups blasted the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program — which provides competitive grants to states that implement education reforms — saying that “by emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.”
Today, Obama responded at the National Urban League Centennial Conference:
I know there’s a concern that Race to the Top doesn’t do enough for minority kids, because the argument is, well, if there’s a competition, then somehow some states or some school districts will get more help than others. Let me tell you, what’s not working for black kids and Hispanic kids and Native American kids across this country is the status quo…So the charge that Race to the Top isn’t targeted at those young people most in need is absolutely false because lifting up quality for all our children — black, white, Hispanic — that is the central premise of Race to the Top. And you can’t win one of these grants unless you’ve got a plan to deal with those schools that are failing and those young people who aren’t doing well. Every state and every school district is directly incentivized to deal with schools that have been forgotten, been given up on.
Of course, closing the achievement gap between white and minority students is a huge part of making the education system more effective. The College Board has set the goal of having 55 percent of 27–34 year olds holding a college degree by 2020 (currently 40 percent do), and “by eliminating the severity of disparities between underrepresented minorities and white Americans, it is estimated that more than half the degrees needed to meet the 55 percent goal would be produced.”
But Race to the Top has been a key driver for education reform across the country. So far, 32 states have implemented reforms in order to compete in the program. “While Race to the Top has only been in existence for a short time, it has yielded some of the most dramatic state education reforms the country has seen in many years,” said CAP’s Cindy Brown. “These changes include a new law in Colorado that ensures all teachers receive a meaningful evaluation, a raise in standards for teacher tenure, and measures that ensure that ineffective teachers who don’t improve are not teaching students.”
So it’s completely baffling that the Senate has seen fit to slice the program’s funding in half for 2011, after the administration itself requested far less than it had in 2010. The House cut the $1.4 billion request down to $850 million, and the Senate reduced it further to just $675 million. This year’s program had $4.3 billion, and with the country’s economic future at stake, it makes little sense to slice a program that’s showing tangible results.