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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Indiana Didn't Race to the Top

Indiana tried very hard to win the lottery-of-sorts proposed by President Obama. It fired half of the teachers from every school failing to meet standardized test quotas. It added new and copious layers of bureaucratic interference designed to enforce its draconian standards. It punished the hell out of the teachers, all to no avail.

You see, our beloved and admired Secretary of Education Tony Bennett forgot something rather important. President Obama meant for the money to be a surplus. Governor Daniels, who also hoped for a slice of the pie, forgot that key aspect as well. Thus, he gouged the education budget by three hundred million dollars. The maximum award for this year's Race to the Top winners was two hundred and fifty million. It was obvious to anyone paying attention that all either Bennett or Daniels hoped for was to fill in a state budget gap.

Another brilliant move on Bennett's part was to request twice as much money as the top award allowed. Here in Fort Wayne, we all know where overreaching gets schools: nowhere. Yet Bennett apparently is just learning that lesson himself. I suppose that to a mind as lackluster as that of our Fearless Superintendent, it makes a sort of twisted sense. If we cut the budget by $300 million, and ask for $500 million, we'll have a surplus of $200 million. We won't be simply using the funds to dig ourselves out of a hole of our own making. Unfortunately for Bennett, the Obama administration disagreed.

I've always said that the whole Race to the Top program was a farce to begin with. Innovation in schools is a nice sounding idea with a messy past. Innovation replaced the paddle with Ritalin. Innovation replaced the retaining of underachieving students with social promotion. Innovation led to the onus of responsibility being removed from the student and placed solely on the shoulders of teachers. None of these has exactly been good for public education.

Now, our leaders in Indianapolis are sticking with their guns. "We made some stupid moves to get the prize money [okay, I'm paraphrasing here], but now that we know we've lost, we might as well stick with our guns."

Napoleon had a similar strategy, at least until Waterloo.