In a remarkable admission, the former director of the Race to the Top (RttT) competitive grant program and chief of staff to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the federal government “forced” full support for adoption of the Common Core standards from each state by requiring its governor, chief state school officer, and head of the state board of education to sign off on the grant application.
Joanne Weiss, who is now an “independent education consultant,” writes at the Stanford Social Innovation Review that the RttT grant program, funded through President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill in the name of helping low-income, poor-performing schools, “offers lessons in high-impact grantmaking that are applicable not only in education but also in other fields.”
The Department of Education runs about 150 competitions every year. But among those programs, Race to the Top stands out. It had more than $4 billion to allocate to competition winners, and it attracted the participation of nearly every state in the union. It arguably drove more change in education at the state, district, and school levels than any federal competition had previously been able to achieve.
Weiss, who led RttT from its start, explains the federal government took advantage of the fact that states were strapped for cash due to the recession.
“[S]o the large pot of funding that we had to offer was a significant inducement for states to compete,” she writes, adding the surprise number of 46 states willing to sign onto the Common Core standards initiative was due to “our decision to leverage the spirit of competition.”
Though Weiss apparently believes she and the U.S. Department of Education (USED) fostered “competition,” her essay essentially admits to remarkable amounts of manipulation of states, as well as non-transparency, at the hands of a puppeteer federal government:
To help each state bring all parties to the reform table, we deployed four tools.
First, we forced alignment among the top three education leaders in each participating state—the governor, the chief state school officer, and the president of the state board of education—by requiring each of them to sign their state’s Race to the Top application. In doing so, they attested that their office fully supported the state’s reform proposal.
Second, we requested (but did not require) the inclusion of signatures by three district officials—the superintendent, the school board president, and the leader of the relevant teachers’ union or teachers’ association—on each district-level MOU. This approach, among other benefits, gave unions standing in the application process without giving them veto power over it.
Third, we created tangible incentives for states to gain a wide base of community support for their plans. Securing buy-in from multiple stakeholders—business groups, parents’ groups, community organizations, and foundations, for example—earned points for a state’s application. Having the support of a state’s teachers’ union earned additional points.
Fourth, as part of the judging process, we required officials from each state that reached the finalist stage to meet in-person with reviewers to present their proposals and answer reviewers’ questions. At this meeting, a team that often included the state’s governor—as well as union leaders, district officials, and the state’s education chief—made its case to reviewers. We imposed this requirement largely to verify that those in charge of implementing their state’s plan were knowledgeable about the plan and fully committed to it. (This was particularly critical in cases where states had used consultants to help draft their application.)
Writing at The Pulse 2016, attorney Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with American Principles in Action, says that Weiss’ admission shows that USED “was actively coercing states, in blatant violation of constitutional principles of federalism, from the earliest days of Common Core.”
Robbins tells Breitbart News Weiss’ admission “blows the lid off” any presidential candidate’s claim that Common Core was a “state-led” process that was simply hijacked by the federal government.
“The former director of the Race to the Top program has admitted a remarkable level of coercion in ‘persuading’ states to adopt federally preferred education policies — Common Core standards, aligned assessments, accountability systems, and personnel policies,” Robbins said. “Not only did the states have to toe the line in all these areas to have a shot at the much-coveted federal money, but they had to alter their own decision-making structures to comply with federal dictates.”
“Given that the Constitution gives the federal government exactly no role in education, the scope of the federal mandates in this situation is quite remarkable,” Robbins writes. “But it wasn’t a hijacking — it was planned from the start. Presidential candidates should retire the misleading talking points.”
In a comment to Weiss’ article, Cheri Kiesecker writes:
THIS confession is astounding…How disturbing that the federal government would “promote approaches to education reform that would be coherent, systemic, and statewide” when there are laws prohibiting the US Dept of Ed from directing local education.
RTTT, taxpayer money, could have, SHOULD have been used to help struggling schools in a time of “profound budgetary challenge for state governments;” instead you chose this as an opportunity.
“A perfect storm for reform,” with no teacher or parent approval necessary or invited involvement. Many of those on your “panel of independent education experts” refused to sign off on this rushed RTTT “induced” experiment.
You have used our children as your guinea pigs, testing out common standards, and data driven instruction. You have changed laws to allow the taking and sharing of children’s personal data and have been backed by billions of edtech dollars, because they stand to make even more money from our children’s data and from the business that is now education…
Similarly, Victoria M. Young writes:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars being used on a poorly designed experiment was a horrible waste of tax dollars at a time when schools – ACROSS THE COUNTRY – needed real help.
Let me try to explain because clearly you people don’t get it.
First, you set the rules. Then you say winners were picked that “had outstanding ideas for improving educational outcomes.” You forgot the part about how they had to be in lock step with what you leaders already decided. Then, you all thought it was a good idea to pick winners that “were also in a strong position to implement those ideas.” That is where all logical thinking about real reform (improving those schools that aren’t “strong”) is dead in the water. Do you wonder why historically we never succeed in “scaling-up” ideas that “work” in states that already have good outcomes? Think about it.
Competitive grants? What a horrible way to do the business of educating all children!
Christopher Chase, Ph.D., a professor of English Language Studies at Seinan Gakuin University, a Christian university in Japan, comments as well:
There is so much deception and spin in this article I don’t know where to begin. I’m a Stanford School of Education graduate who worked with real education reform in the 1990s, the Accelerated Schools Project started by former Stanford Prof. Hank Levin…
“The competition required applicants to address four key areas: standards and assessments, teachers and leaders, data, and turning around low-performing schools.”
Concerning “standards and assessments” – In reality, what happened is that your Common Core standards and assessments were put together in secrecy by people associated with testing (not learning), with a pedagogy out of the Cold War era (New Criticism) and little input from real teachers and education reform experts. You ignored research on child development, focused on high-stakes testing and rigid standards, which all the research has shown diminishes student motivation and learning…
Your “reform” approach was set up to take over, manipulate and sabotage American education…