Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Will Race to the Top Hurt Kids and Make Charter School Entrepreneurs Rich?

I am an outspoken advocate for thoughtful, constructive educational transformation. I am NOT, however, an advocate for opening the coffers of public education to private investors of all flavors at the expense of our children as well as our collective future. In May 2004, I wrote the post, “School refinance, vouchers, generational compact and class warfare?” Is the dark conspiracy about which I wrote six years ago finally coming to pass in many states under the alleged educational leadership of Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama? I hope not, but I fear it may. The words of Diane Ravitch writing for Education Week yesterday are chilling. She concludes her article, “Conflicts of Interest and the Race to the Top” by noting:

Whatever Secretary Duncan chooses to do with the good advice offered by Millot, I have a prediction to make: As hundreds and possibly thousands more charter schools open, we will see many financial and political scandals. We will see corrupt politicians and investors putting their hands into the cashbox. We will see corrupt deals where public school space is handed over to entrepreneurs who have made contributions to the politicians making the decisions. We will see many more charter operators pulling in $400,000-500,000 a year for their role, not as principals, but as “rainmakers” who build warm relationships with politicians and investors.

When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.

I learned at a meeting yesterday we don’t know yet if Oklahoma will receive “Race to the Top” dollars, and may not know till April. We live in such a strange time for educational budgets. I’ve heard rumors some of our largest districts in the state may fire/let go up to 500 teachers next school year. Several of my friends who have technology roles in Oklahoma districts are reportedly losing their jobs. On February 25th of this month, a group of Oklahoma schools will be announced who will split $6.5 million in ARRA funds for 1:1 laptop projects. And amidst this chaos, we have the federal government offering millions of dollars in carrot money to force states and schools to follow the agenda (as Ravitch argues) of the Gates Foundation and (as I perceive) the same edu-politicos who gave us the agenda which included NCLB, Reading First, and other destructive educational policies. For more of my past thoughts along these lines, see the past posts:

  1. A contrary view of education and NCLB (Feb 2008)
  2. Again, U.S. federal funds used to strong arm state legislators (Oct 2009)
  3. ReadingFirst, NCLB, School Accountability, and our Educational Future (Aug 2008)
  4. NCLB, local control, end of course exams, and educating shepherds instead of sheep (Jan 2007)
  5. NCLB has been a destructive tragedy, not an accomplishment (Jan 2007)

I not only wish our leaders in Washington had a DIFFERENT vision for education and educational change in the United States, I also wish we had DIFFERENT LEADERS. I am disgusted with the irresponsible levels of federal spending which we continue to see from Washington D.C. And I am disgusted with our President as well as his Secretary of Education who are bent on advancing the same destructive agenda of high-stakes accountability and privatization.

High stakes testing is not the only enemy. Leaders who take our nation down the wrong educational path are as well.

President Obama, please fire your secretary of education NOW and abandon this destructive educational agenda started during the Bush years. You shame yourself as an alleged leader for change and hope in educational politics. The time for CHANGE is NOW.

Unfortunately, I fear our political ship of state has so much momentum in the wrong direction it’s not going to alter course anytime soon.


H/T Doug Noon.

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7 responses to “Will Race to the Top Hurt Kids and Make Charter School Entrepreneurs Rich?”

  1. GingerTPLC Avatar

    I wish charters across America were run as they are in Kansas. 1) the local BOE must apply for and manage the charter request, making it a public, district-run school. 2) the charter school must either be administered by the district itself, or an educational service center. 3) the charter school is allowed to have flexibility in hiring practices and expected to have non-traditional methods in addressing student need. We still are beholden to the same high-stakes testing, though.

    I always cringe and feel I have to explain myself when I tell people across the US that while we’re a charter school, we’re a PUBLIC charter. When it comes to charter schools, it seems that Kansas is doing it right. I wish that the Fed leadership would step out of their business-model bubble.

  2. That Man Avatar
    That Man

    If public schools fail us, would private do better?

  3. Mark Powell Avatar
    Mark Powell

    Rather than complaining about it and acting like politician’s self-serving decisions are a surprise, might be more fruitful to focus on the root cause and advocate fixing that rather than the symptoms. Lawrence Lessig’s work makes so much sense of what I see in D.C. now, and has become the focal point of my own political interests now:

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Mark: I whole-heartedly agree that Lessig’s work needs our support. My Jan 25th post, “Fair Elections Now: Why we must change campaign finance in the United States” was my most recent, ardent plea for support of both change Congress as well as Fair Elections Now.

    I don’t think it make sense to just pass off NCLB and the high stakes accountability movement on “politician’s self-serving decisions,” however. Certainly GW Bush pushed his education agenda in Texas and as president to win votes and appear to naive onlookers like he was making a positive difference for education… and I know there was (and continues to be) lots of commercial lobbying efforts for the grant programs which came out of the federal government during that era. Little of that had to do with what is best for students. I think these issues are connected to our need for campaign finance reform, but not exactly the same.

  5. Chris Lehmann Avatar

    I’m really disappointed with Obama who, during the campaign was listening to (and therefore sounding like) Linda Darling-Hammond about education, and then did a 180 degree turn once he was in office. I have never been a “one-issue voter” before, but more and more, I am thinking I may be in 2012. I’m not sure where that leaves me as a voter, and it may mean that I leave the top of the ticket blank when I vote, but I’m not prepared to vote for someone who is tearing down what I have spent my professional life trying to build.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I share your sentiments, Chris. At some point (and I’m not sure when that “right time” is or will be) I think we need to leverage the power of social media to advocate for change in education. I know Lessig is doing great work on the issues of corporate corruption/lobbying, but I don’t see anyone focusing specifically on an agenda for change in education that I support. Where is that interest group? I know we have lots of advocates, but I haven’t seen an articulated/detailed agenda for changes in the law that we need to change this destructive course. As I’ve noted before there is SO much momentum here, it’s hard to see how this ship will change course anytime soon. That said, however, I think it HAS to. Perhaps the tools of social media can make large political ships alter course faster than has been historically possible. I’d like to help put that hope / hypothesis to the test.

  7. Chris Lehmann Avatar


    I agree… I think we’re starting to see a lot of educators wake up to the idea that what is going on right now is very dangerous to what we believe is the proper way to educate a nation. I think that we’re going to have to use social media (and every other tool we can think of) to make sure that it’s not just educators who see it. Our best avenue for change is going to be when parents and students start to call for change in our schools. Sadly, the way the issue is being framed right now, when teachers speak out, we are painted as “part of the problem.” It’s going to take some very skillful coalition building and advocacy if we are to turn this tide.