Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

March 10, 2010

The Dash for the Cash

Filed under: Education — by Robert @ 6:32 pm
Tags: ,

Recently we’ve been hearing the many and sordid accounts of school districts across the country (superintendents/principals) in their mad dash for cash from the Race to the Top Program out of the Obama’s so-called Stimulus Program. It’s been reported that even the ubiquitous Gates Foundation has used some of its grant-money to pay for the time and resources necessary to prepare applications for this program. That’s an interesting use of “educational” dollars. Soon these same leaders will be competing with one another for even more money in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act (its future name surely something other than the infamous NCLB). The first thought that comes to mind is the fact that half the people who play tennis today will lose. In the Race to the Top some just won’t make it. Some won’t even enter. Nevertheless, one still has to ask, “Race to the Top of what?”

 School Superintendents, like school principals, are busy people. They have finite resources and infinite responsibilities. I suppose that’s as it should be; otherwise they overvalue the one and minimize the importance of the other. And anyone who’s been sailing knows that when you have a surplus of one thing on board ship, it means you also have a serious shortage somewhere else. As anywhere else in life, one has to choose. Should I be educating kids or making grant applications?  Where do I put my/our resources (time being a critical one)?  For whom or what was I hired? To whom am I beholding?

When a superintendent or principal spends resources on grant applications, they are committing themselves (or at least their district resources and future direction) to the grant writers. When those resources come from Washington, then that district is committing itself to the policies and procedures outlined in that grant from D.C..  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t outside grants supplement and reinforce local efforts rather than dictate to them? Remember, education is a state mandate not a federal one. There is not one scintilla of mention about education in the federal Constitution. 

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… These same superintendents and principals are being pulled in a variety of directions away from their first and primary responsibility (and resource)—students. Districts should be rewarded if students succeed, not their grant writers. After all, grant makers and grant writers tend to be so-called policy wonks—most have never been in a classroom as a teacher and most don’t know the nature of the enterprise; and none of these wonks will be held accountable when kids don’t make it, when they fail to make it in the Race to the Top.

So what would be the ultimate reinforcement for a school principal or superintendent? I suppose it would be that they have a job; that is, that they have students to teach. Students come to them for an education, barring the coercion of compulsory education laws and the rather parochial geography of their attendance placements. Maybe this is what we need to change. Maybe we need to strap the resources to the backs of every student and allow them and their parents to choose. After all, parents are the primary educators of their kids and know them pretty well.

What would happen if kids/parents were able to choose their own placement? It would surely shift the efforts of those in charge from seeking outside resources to seeking those right before their eyes, their primary resource. That is to say, if no student came seeking an education, they would have to get better at it or close. There would be a dynamic and direct connection between the efforts of the districts and the success of their resources—students. In the mad dash for the cash of outside resources there is no connection between the cash and its requirements and the success of students. And isn’t that sad.

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