State of the Union

Obama Should Shut Up About Race to the Top Already

Every year in the State of the Union, the president brags about the same small ed reform victory-because there's nothing else to say.


This year in the State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touted a success in reforming K-12 education in America:

Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance.  Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  

And it's true that Race to the Top has been a pretty good program. For a little under $5 billion, the president was able to nudge states to report out more information about teacher quality and lift caps on the number of charter schools. The promise of federal cash for reform even nudged state legislators and governors to risk some union wrath in making those changes. But it was ultimately a pretty small reform and the effects have petered out. 

But that hasn't stopped the president from filing almost the entire K-12 portion of the education sections of his State of the Union addresses with a brag on Race to the Top.

Every. Single. Year.


And 4 years ago, we started Race to the Top, a competition that convinced almost every State to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. …


For less than 1 percent of what our Nation spends on education each year [with Race to the Top], we've convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning, the first time that's happened in a generation….


Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 States to raise their standards for teaching and learning. 


Now, this year, we've broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. And the idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success.

Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform, reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city.


This budget creates new teachers—new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. 

All right already. We get it. 

There's a much more to be done. Race to the Top funds are a drop in the $500 billion bucket of education spending in this country. And our K-12 system is deeply dysfunctional. Spending has skyrocketed, more than doubling over the past three decades, while test score remain stagnant. Yet the president seems content to rest on his laurels.

If the president needs some ideas, we've got him covered.

The 50 million of kids in elementary, middle, and high school right now deserve a lot more than warmed over speech text about a small experimental reform program.

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  1. You mean holding schools accountable and expanding room for competitors brought about positive changes in a field dominated by ossified institutions largely protected from competition?

    It's almost as though there's a school of thought, some intellectual avocation involving the study of human interactions in a world of scarce resources and cooperative ventures, that might have told us that centuries ago. But where could we find these hermetic sages?

  2. He's insecure.

    And telling a leader to shut up?

    Sweet. Sexy even.

    1. I must have missed it. When was any leader told to shut up? I didn't see any leader told to shut up.

  3. "Why Obama should shut up . . . "
    (Do a 300 page dissertation on this topic.)

  4. And it's true that Race to the Top has been a pretty good program. For a little under $5 billion, the president was able to nudge states to report out more information about teacher quality and lift caps on the number of charter schools.

    It's not a "pretty good program" because there's no increase in education or lowering of costs. In fact there's probably an increase in costs beyond the $5 billion wasted on bribes because now they're spending time and money filling out reports about useless information, e.g. "teacher quality".

  5. ...


    "Why not public school choice? Because it won't improve educational outcomes and will increase expenses.

    Why not higher standards? Because they are based on well-meant but foolish delusions about reasonable academic goals for large, heterogeneous populations.

    Why not poverty as a reason for the achievement gap? Because poverty is trumped by race, which is probably a proxy for cognitive ability distribution (which does not mandate a genetic cause).

    Why not blame unintelligent teachers? Why not blame unions that protect those teachers? Because teachers aren't incompetent, there's vanishingly little evidence that teacher smarts affect educational outcomes, and unions can be blamed for increasing costs, but not for educational outcomes of any sort.

    Why not believe we can change and improve public education? Because given its task, public education is not doing a bad job. Certainly not as bad a job as many people believe. Cf: blood from turnips."

    1. So teachers aren't to blame for any of the failures?

      1. If you have a lawn mower and you run it over your lawn producing an excellent result, and then your neighbor borrows it to cut his lawn and produces a proficient result; your other neighbor borrows it and does a shitty half-assed job . . . how is it the lawn mower's fault?
        The problem with institutional educational efficacy is that 30% of parents are fuck-ups and who refuse to take responsibility for their kids education. We're lucky we get what we do from institutional education, but the failures are largely the culture of the parents.

  6. Barak is crowing about it because he has nothing else to sing about. The rest of the speech was 'bad, bad team red.' along with "I will use my mighty pen to do what I want." That pen along coupled with Barak's spear and magic helmet and them nasty team wed wabbits will learn their lesson.

  7. Obama has little to brag about. He let us all dream about 'Yes, We Can. Yes, We Will.". But he seems to be an empty vessel that sounds more than it does actually. He had made us believe that the country will have lot of jobs. But in reality fall in unemployment rate is only marginal and not significant. Is this his American dream? What a pity. What about the Guantanamo Bay prisoners? Why this shit is still open?
    In this speech he carefully avoided preaching Keynesian economics of more direct public expenditure, which actually can save millions of poor and middle income people of the US. I voted for Obama but I must say he let me down.

  8. LMAO!

    Obama actually believes that he can construct an executive order that would take precedence over MY, OUR 2nd amendment?

    Unfortunately, his delusional liberal la-la-land wisdom fails him again.

    I believe any attempt at perverting the second amendment will be met with fierce resistance. Hell, even a good ole boy from the red clay hills of Georgia knows the meaning of "shall not be infringed". You "scholars" need to study up apparently.

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  10. Obama Should Shut Up About Race to the Top Already

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