Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts on ESEA Competitive Grants

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is ready for reauthorization, although Congress will probably not take ESEA up until next year. The Obama Administration has issued their "Blueprint" which sets forth the policy that they hope will be reflected in the ESEA. As some of you may have heard, both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have voiced complaints. The education organizations believe that the Blueprint is too heavily focused on standardized tests, continuing the legacy of No Child Left Behind.

Additionally, the NEA and AFT are concerned about the policy shift away from formula driven funding towards competitive grants. Considering the chaotic chase for RTTT and SIG funds, the education world does not favor introducing this same model for the essential ESEA money. The Administration seems oblivious to the issue of capacity in an already stressed system.

This Administration is introducing the idea of competitive grants in many sectors of government. They are giving credence to the stereotype of government's "one size fits all" mentality.

In some areas, one may desire to have winners and losers, and the withholding of money can actually affect a desired outcome. Let us use transportation as an example. If the Secretary of Transportation wants to encourage investment in public transportation and discourage urban sprawl then the Secretary can design grant guidelines that promote public transportation. Continuing the analogy, look at St. Louis, Missouri. The metro-plex of St. Louis is now spread over 5 counties. An area almost twice as large as the entire state of Delaware. Under our scenario, if St. Louis hands in a grant application that plans for building more roads deeper into suburban areas, they will not win a grant. If St. Louis does not win a grant, they will not build the roads and ipso facto the policy of reducing urban sprawl has been carried out.

Now by comparison, the Secretary of Education wants persistently low performing schools to achieve standards and perform up to potential. If the same competitive grant is laid on top of
this situation, what happens? A school district which has a number of under performing schools and competes for ESEA, may very well not win that grant. After all, if the district had great innovative ideas on how to turn the situation around, they would be not be in the situation to begin with. Under the competitive grant scenario this district will not receive ESEA funds. Not receiving those funds continues the downward spiral. There is no aberrant behavior that will stop because of the denial of money. In fact, the struggling district will struggle even more.

Education does not need a dose of Social Darwinism. Education needs resources, understanding, and a way forward that is not all about quantifying the unquantifiable, such as learning and the value of kids and teachers.
Congratulations to Mary Pinkston, the Delaware Teacher of the Year. Mary gave an articulate speech with strong ideas today before the Delaware House of Representatives. Mary teaches mathematics at Brandywine High School. She has dedicated 17 years of excellent service to the children of Brandywine School District.

1 comment:

  1. Could not agree more. Well said, er written.