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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The never ending "Race to the Top" not WV's solution to education reform.

“On your mark, get set….STOP.” Oops, let’s start again. And so it goes with the new education initiative from the “Ed.Gov.”, Race “To The Top”. Forty states apply and only two are awarded bucks? This is some kind of new race. (?) The reality is that it’s not just a race; it is an effort to improve our country’s educational systems with our tax money as the prize. Let’s review: American tax payers send the”Feds” their bucks to do good stuff for the country; the “Feds” use our money as a reward for doing what they say needs done to improve education in our state; if states do not comply…no “mega bucks”. I’m receiving a bad vibe on this one, Arne. (Duncan, Secretary of Education.)

As an educator with 34 years in the public schools, now in the private sector, I always believed that local folks knew best how to address the needs of their children. The teachers and principals with support from the parents, local businesses and legislators work very hard in West Virginia to provide the very best education possible for our children. Yes, education needs reform, but forcing state/local policies and laws to be crafted to support an educational vision based on “Federal” perspectives deludes the significant connections and ownership with stakeholders necessary to ensure effective and sustained reform.

West Virginia educators have been re-tooling the learning models and processes since the advent of No Child Left Behind. (2001) We have 21st Century Learning CSO’s and best practices as well as a new policy on the leadership characteristics needed to guide our state’s educational system in the global economy. A sense of urgency is now created by new financial enticements to meet expectations for education excellence from the “Feds”. The West Virginia Department of Education has already invested much time and valuable human resources developing their “RTTT” application and in my opinion did a fine job doing so. The document itself stands as a testimony of initiatives developed over the past years and a vision for continued reform. I believe our West Virginia educators know better how to educate our children than bureaucrats from Washington. (I’ve read the reader notes from our application…no big “aha’s” here.) Do we need “bold moves”? Yes! But, we need to do so using the insight of West Virginians in a manner that we can embrace, not as a “knee-jerk” reaction to the possible acquisition of “mega bucks” from the Feds.

Are all our students’ learning achievements and outcomes where we want them to be? Far from it! Is there concern from our citizenry about this situation? You bet there is! Should we work together to craft and implement the process to achieve excellence in education in West Virginia? Absolutely! It’s what West Virginians have always done. So, why do we need the “Feds”? Oh…I remember, they have the “mega bucks”. My opinion: Think well about what West Virginians will give up chasing the “dollars of change”. Money doesn’t make change in education, people do. Changing West Virginia education laws and policies based on a federal schooling model may not serve the needs of our state. With the current learning environment changing at exponential rates, local flexibility and dynamic response are valued commodities that could be dealt away in a never-ending “Race To The Top”.

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