(Photo: Reuters/Tami Chappell/Handout)
The President Barack Obama administration's education reform initiative, Race to the Top, is harming efforts to close the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students, a new report by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education finds, because it has shifted resources away from targeted programs for poor students and toward testing and assessment programs. Critics of the report call it "junk science."
The achievement gap between students from low-income families and other students, the reports says, mostly has to do with factors outside the schools themselves. And, the programs that show the most promise at closing the gap are good pre-kindergarten programs, after-school programs, summer programs, and health and nutrition programs. Efforts to implement RTTT, though, have led to a scaling back of these programs as resources have shifted to implementing RTTT and the associated Common Core State Standards Initiative.
The "competitive nature" of RTTT "raises important concerns about how federal funding of education is most effective and the intersection between resources and policy," the report concludes. Federal dollars are small part, eight to 10 percent of all K-12 education spending, but those dollars play a "critical role" in helping to "level the educational playing field."
"As long as both remain underfunded, competitive funding will only exacerbate the gaps federal funding should close. Second ... RTTT funding hinges in large part on the intensive involvement of highly paid consultants. Access to federal education funds should not depend on whether a state, district, or school can afford a well-connected grant writer. [Federal funding] can support innovation in STEM and early education and better accomplish the administration's goals for RTTT while avoiding the overhead and costly technical assistance associated with competition, and without exacerbating the system of haves and have-nots and widening achievement gaps."
BBAE has been opposed to RTTT since its early stages. Critics of the report argue that BBAE found what it wanted to find and ignored contrary evidence.
"No one ever doubted that change this big would be hard, and while we have worked with states to make necessary adjustments, the big picture is that states' efforts are largely in keeping with the scope and timeline of their plans," an Education Department spokesperson told Politico. "The department will continue to work with states to support what is working, to make necessary adjustments and to understand where we can learn and improve."
Charles Barone, policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, referred to the report as "junk science."
"The report released today by the Broader, Bolder group shows the extent to which adults invested in blocking needed education reforms will go to defend their interests. This is intellectual dishonesty of the worst kind by very smart people who know better," he said.