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.
The DOE is not publicizing AmeriCorps’ involvement with Race to the Top for many reasons. First, the recent scandal involving the Teaching Fellows program is still fresh in the mind of many Americans. In June 2009, an audit of the AmeriCorps branch found that it had misused “upwards of $80 million of taxpayer money.” The report exposed waste, lapses in criminal background checks, inadequate documentation of spending, and a long list of violations of grant rules. In lieu of correcting the problem, Obama simply fired the inspector general who did his job and discovered the issues.
Secondly, most Americans are aware that AmeriCorps is not nonpartisan. Their “paid volunteers” promote a government-centered idea of social service, involving them with many radical leftist initiatives. Many conservatives in government became more wary of the group after the passage of the GIVE Act, which expanded AmeriCorps’ federal funding by $5.7 billion. At the time of the bill’s passage, the San Francisco Examiner noted that it “sounds like a government curriculum for government-approved ‘service learning,’ which is nothing less than indoctrination.” Even as Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said GIVE had provisions that would lead to “reeducation camps for young people,” it’s doubtful anyone suspected they’d so easily infiltrate the public school system.
The agenda for both TFA and TNTP’s Teaching Fellows programs is nothing less than indoctrination of liberal ideologies. Groups like socialist George Soros’ Open Society Institute and Echoing Green, a global warming and social justice advocacy group, have funded the programs’ progressive education agendas. The Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), which proposed the idea of AmeriCorps as one of its “signature policy reforms,” is still highly involved in TFA and Teaching Fellows. PPI’s primary goal is “to define and promote a new progressive politics for America,” now coming to a school near you.
Another supporter is the Center for American Progress (CAP), which has sponsored events for TNTP and conducted “studies” touting their successes. Although previous independent studies have called TFA and similar teaching groups “harmful,” CAP claims they “deliver a higher-quality education to every student.” Yes, that’s the same Center for American Progress where self-professed communist Van Jones was a senior fellow, and where he was recently given “workspace” after public opinion caused him to resign from his position as green jobs czar.
Teach for America, which sponsored the Pennsylvania Local Progressive Candidate Training Program, is likely conducting another kind of progressive training in the public school system. Perusing through TeachFor.us, a site designed for TFA teachers to blog about their experiences and share ideas, you’ll find many startling quotes, such as:
- “Math objectives don’t exactly match up with the super holistic super progressive educational activities I had wanted to sneak into my lesson plans.”
- “I decided to apply the next day. The decision was based mostly on my perception that TFA was a great way to continue the pursuits I had started working for during Obama’s campaign.”
- “My students boo every time John McCain is mentioned, I am planning on reading a book written by Amnesty International.”
You’ll also find pages and pages of entries about teaching global warming to the students, but no lesson plans discussing Ronald Reagan, the Boston Tea Party, or the Second Amendment.
It should also be noted that Duncan’s appointed leader to oversee Race to the Top is Joanne Weiss. Weiss served on the board for Green Dot Public Schools, which was launched in 1999 by Steve Barr. Oddly enough, Steve Barr serves on the board of directors for Teach for America Los Angeles’ office and has served on other AmeriCorps projects since its conception. The intermingling of these groups is endless.
Barr’s approach in running his schools, as described by Scholastic, is “largely a mix of liberal political instinct and progressive social activism.” Last year, Duncan paid a visit to Barr to get his advice on how the DOE could succeed in a “takeover and transformation” of low-performing schools, similar to what Barr had set up. Apparently, the two have discussed making Green Dot a national organization, with Barr overseeing aspects of the DOE’s charter school expansion.
Barr’s advice on how the federal government could further help the public school system was to “make private schools illegal.” When federal oversight causes the public sector to deteriorate, blame and attack the private sector. Barr recently stepped down as board chair of Green Dot after being forced to repay them over $50,000 of undocumented or unjustified expenses.
In a world where Democrats control the presidency and Congress, few have bothered to investigate how this will affect American schools. According to Sekou Biddle, a former project manager for TFA, “we are now seeing the top policymakers all very aligned on a very progressive reform agenda. So we’ve got a much more progressive board than we’ve ever had.” It should come as no surprise that Democrats are poised to infiltrate leftist propaganda into our school system. What is surprising is how easily so many state governments are willing to sell out their children’s futures.