While Bush redefined the educational landscape by passing the law, the Obama administration has taken a free market approach. The introduction of the Race to the Top grant competition gave states a chance to compete for educational-innovation funds.
The catch was that in order to be eligible, states had to conform to standards set by the Department of Education. A few of these standards include creating a teacher-evaluation system, charter school expansion and adopting new turnaround strategies for failing schools. While these terms seem small on their face, in reality they are contentious and restraining.
For example, teachers’ unions have been attacked in films like Waiting for Superman and cited as a reason for failing schools. At the same time, the newly proposed teacher-evaluation systems have also been found to be unreliable at predicting high-quality teaching. The NAACP recently sued the New York City Department of Education for illegally closing community schools in haste and privileging charter schools. The lawsuit is controversial because black families are overrepresented in both failing schools and charter schools.
While education policy waits to be rewritten, the fate of black students and teachers hangs in the balance. Instead of negotiating politics and developing standards, the administration has hoped that bartering relief from parts of NCLB in exchange for acquiescence to the Department of Education’s demands — plus Race to the Top dollars — will chase away the political differences that have stalled national education reform.
This could not be further from the truth. All over the nation, educational politics are becoming all the more contentious, and the clock is ticking on policies that take the nation in a direction that encourages achievement for all.