The first two winners of grants from the Obama administration’s $4 billion “Race to the Top” fund — Tennessee and Delaware — were announced yesterday and the decision ignited the education blogosphere. For those who don’t venture into that world much, it’s a surprisingly contentious, Alice-in-Wonderland place. Broken down, the debate went like this:
Both states had 100 percent participation of their school districts and near-unanimous backing of local teachers union leaders. In the auto or any other industry this would be seen as a good thing. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took note of it. He was pleased, he said, that the $500 million bet being placed on Tennessee and the $100 million wager laid down in Delaware would benefit 100 percent of the students in both states. The fact that the unions representing classroom teachers — as well as philanthropists, business leaders and political leaders of both parties — were on board also was seen as a plus.
But education conservatives, led by the ever-entertaining and often-brilliant Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, were skeptical. (Full disclosure: Rick is on the advisory committee of The Hechinger Report.) He simply didn’t believe that school districts would “sign on to efforts to dramatically retool K-12 schooling.”
Never mind that they did. So, they signed on to it but, when push comes to shove, they would resist? As my friends in Delaware have said, it’s a small state. It’s the kind of place where, when someone says “I know where you live,” they’re not kidding. The calculus seems to be that anything that’s popular can’t be serious. To be serious, you have to get people angry. On the other hand, the unions shouldn’t overplay their hand.
It’s probably not a good idea for them to stand in the way of their state receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in new money. You gotta give to get in this world.
— Richard Lee Colvin