So, Louisiana gets the shaft again in the federal government’s Race to the Top program. Why speaks volumes not so much about the quality of the application, but the politics inherent in educational policy that precisely is what reform in Louisiana and elsewhere slowly have been trying to wring from the system.
When reviewing the list of winners against those that did not score – Louisiana finished 13th of 17, actually lower than in the first round, and only the top 10 got money allocated in varying amounts – one might be tempted to wonder whether electoral politics made a difference. Almost all of the winning states were solidly Democrat or swing states where this fall Democrats could use some help as will Pres. Barack Obama for 2012. But Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made no modifications to the list submitted by external reviewers, for which he could have been accused of manipulation for political purposes (even if the list as produced largely served these kinds of purposes) – although it could be argued that Duncan overruling could have improved matters, given his reform credentials.
Unfortunately, much of the educational establishment does not share that outlook. More accurately, the list reflected the political views prevalent within the educational establishment, which are against ideas such as testing for teacher subject competence or linking teacher evaluations to student performance, and for union and local district seals of approvals, groups that generally oppose these reforms. Duncan tried to put a brave face on this fact of life, saying union failure to buy in did not cost states like Louisiana and Colorado (both of whom have aggressively moved forward in liking evaluation to performance), but wide disparity in reviewers’ scores (reported but the details not yet released; see here for the disparity noted in the first round) for the same applications often attributed to lower scores where there was not widespread union and district approval. (Factors extraneous to the ideas in the applications, like grant-writing skill, also played a part).
But, practically speaking, this should not alter the reform agenda Louisiana has been pursuing. Fewer dollars may mean slower implementation, but sufficient (if not as much desired for truly revolutionary change) impetus remains to continue reversing the lax state of Louisiana’s elementary and secondary educational system. Supporters of mediocrity (generally, the in-state opponents of the state’s application) will try to use this defeat as a way to halt momentum, but the supporters of improvement must not let this flag their wills to follow their agenda to give Louisiana children the education they deserve.