Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Race To The . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzz

The education media and blogosphere were aflutter yesterday with the results of the first round of RTTT grants.  Most seemed at least somewhat receptive to the selection of Tennessee and Delaware as winners.  As a current resident of Tennessee, I noticed many were abuzz with excitement.  Me?  Eh.  I'm not sure I see what the fuss is about.

You may have noticed that I've said virtually nothing on RTTT over the past few months, and that's largely because I think its import is overblown.  The selection process seems far more likely to impact education than the actual grants.  Tennessee received about $500 million to be spent over four years.  I can't seem to find the actual figures, but I believe Tennessee's education budget is somewhere around $10 billion -- and with the current state of the economy, over $100 million in state-level education spending cuts have already been proposed for next year.  Not to mention the local budget cuts in Nashville, Knoxville, and other places.  In other words, it's distinctly possible that, despite the massive grant, TN will still spend less on education next year than they did this year.

According to the LA Times, Tennessee has 964,259 students -- meaning that the extra funding equals about $500 more per pupil -- or a little over $100 per student per year.  And, yes, this is supposed to benefit all students ("We're confident that all students in both states will benefit from this program." - Arne Duncan).

Did the rush to win RTTT funds yield some important policy changes?  Yes.  But please excuse my skepticism of the notion that a grant equal to around 1% of Tennessee's educational expenditures will transform our state's schools.

1 comment:

Eve Proper said...

RTTT was the topic of conversation on NPR this morning. I only caught a few minutes of it, but those moments were infuriating.

A grandparent had called in to say he wanted his granddaughter to be evaluated creativity, the arts, etc., and where did that fit in? One administrator said it could be squeezed in elsewhere - but it wasn't "student achievement." He did not say, "We're only measuring a part of what we expect students to achieve." Nope - apparently that other stuff isn't important.

Then someone said, in essence, that creativity and all that is all well and good for students who are already high-achieving, but those other kids, those who aren't middle class, they'd better just settle for learning math and reading. (Clearly, I'm paraphrasing.) God forbid there's a kid who is a genius on the trumpet or who might get better in reading via creative writing lessons.

That's the achievement gap, right there. I'm so glad we have more federal money to push education further in this direction.