Today, applications for the second round of Race to the Top — a program pioneered by the Obama administration providing $4 billion in competitive grants to states that implement education reforms — are due to the Department of Education. Delaware and Tennessee won a collective $600 million in the competition’s first round, but that still leaves $3.4 billion to be dispersed.
At least nine states have opted out of the competition this time around, after they fared poorly in the first round and failed to enact the kind of reforms necessary to bolster their applications. But many other states are passing legislation lifting caps on charter schools, improving teacher evaluations, and adopting the National Governors Association’s common academic standards, in order to boost their chances.
One of the states looking to adopt the common standards and establish a new teacher evaluation system was Oklahoma, and the debate on the floor of the Oklahoma state House of Representatives took a turn for the absurd, with one member claiming that the Race to the Top program was designed by the United Nations:
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said she was concerned that some of the standards being proposed to win the federal government’s Race to the Top grant were developed by the United Nations. “These are standards that are not American standards,” she said.
Kern, a former teacher, said she also is leery about the program because it is developed by Democratic President Barack Obama. “Race to the Top is Obama’s baby,” Kern said. “With this money will come strings…I’m not willing to sell out our children.”
For the record, the common academic standards that are worth 40 points on the Race to the Top application were designed by the National Governors Association, not by the Obama administration or the United Nations. But Kern is not the only one making nonsensical claims about the program. This morning, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) falsely claimed that adopting common standards would actually make Virginia lower its academic standards.
After being subjected to such hysterical rhetoric, Oklahoma’s legislature initially voted down the reform package. However, to its credit, it quickly reversed course just one day later and voted to pass the package. One lawmaker who switched his position said that his first vote had been based on “bad information.” “I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. We need these reforms,” said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R).
In addition to adopting the NGA’s common standards, the reform package passed in Oklahoma includes a new regimen for evaluating teachers that employs a number of criteria to rank teachers as superior, highly effective, effective, needing improvement or ineffective. Those judged to be ineffective for two consecutive years can be let go, while effective teachers will be eligible for bonuses.