Indoctrination Disguised as Education Reform

Apparently, $4.35 billion is not enough for education reform -- at least, not the kind that President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pushing. With the first $4.35 billion coming from the stimulus package, Obama has asked for $1.53 billion more in his 2011 budget -- all for Duncan’s Race to the Top competition. This educational experiment, designed “to dramatically reshape America’s educational system,” allows states to compete for a piece of the $5 billion in cash prizes by making educational reforms dictated by the Department of Education (DOE). The more DOE reforms they enact, the more money states “win.” Currently, 40 states have applied.

Despite the vast expansion of federal government mandates on state and local schools, Race to the Top has received relatively little resistance from proponents of smaller government. But the reality is that this plan not only usurps state rights; it also introduces a whole new program of indoctrination.

According to the DOE’s website, “integrity and transparency drive the process” of Race to the Top. In truth, it’s about as transparent as a blindfold, causing many school districts to opt out. Although states like Iowa, California, and Wisconsin applied for the grant money, many of their school districts are not choosing to participate. Citing an inability to get adequate information on the regulations that would be imposed on the schools, districts “struggled with unanswered questions about how tightly the funds would be tied to mandates.” Karl Paulson, a Missouri school district superintendent, wrote, “It is irresponsible for officials from the State Department of Education or State Board of Education to coerce local districts into a commitment through politics and press releases without the districts having the full design and requirements of that commitment being detailed.”

Texas Governor Rick Perry, one of the few staunch opponents of the program, stated that it would be “foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education.” He added that if Washington truly cared about education, it would give the money to the states with “no strings attached.” Among those “strings attached” is a commitment to abandon local curricula to adopt unproven, national curriculum standards.

Still, the focus on charter schools has duped many on the right to support the program. But before cheering for charter schools, parents need to be reminded that the camouflage-clad, militant youth chanting and praising President Obama came from a Kansas City, Missouri, charter school. In reality, that school’s model much more closely resembles the vision of both Obama and Duncan.

Charter schools by definition are free from many of the rules and regulations of public schools. Although they have accountability standards, they set their own curricula and programs. But since the foundation of Race to the Top is setting a core curriculum determined by Washington, the reality is that these so-called charter schools will not set their own curriculum. The DOE is simply redefining the term “charter school” with the hopes that its program can sail through with little right-wing opposition.

With their newly defined charters, they’ll not only be able to change what students are learning, but more easily change who is teaching them. Traditionally, charter schools have been free from the burdens of teachers’ unions so that they can more easily fire and replace bad teachers. When a school becomes a charter school, its teachers even have to reapply for their jobs; enter AmeriCorps.

One of the most startling facets of Race to the Top is its attempt to get rid of as many traditionally educated teachers -- i.e., those who go to a college to earn a master’s degree in education -- and replace them with “alternatively” certified teachers; and, not just any alternatively certified teachers, but those certified by AmeriCorps’ Teach for America (TFA) and Teaching Fellows, which it runs jointly with the New Teacher Project (TNTP).

Many school districts are already adding AmeriCorps workers with hopes of appearing more competitive for the federal dollars. For example, Colorado agreed to “more than quadruple the number of Teach for America teachers in classrooms, from 175 to more than 800.” And in Indiana’s Race to the Top application, the state agreed to “double the number of teachers entering each year from Teach for America and the New Teacher Project.

Replacing traditionally educated teachers with AmeriCorps-certified teachers is not a new idea to Duncan. Despite laying off hundreds of teachers during his tenure as CEO for Chicago Public Schools, he still managed to add hundreds of TFA teachers to Chicago schools.