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New School Year Brings Both Hope and Uncertainty

I’ve laid low this summer, mostly watching the long drawn out run up to final passage of the so-called EduJobs bill in the Senate.  Secretary Duncan has kept his promise of moving swiftly to get the money out and posted a simple application earlier this week, but governors still sit in the driver’s seat.

Yesterday Governor M. Jodi Rell formally ap­plied for the $110.4 million coming to Connecticut. The money will be dedicated primarily to maintaining current staffing levels and avoiding layoffs. NEA estimates this could save 1,500 jobs in Connecticut. The State Department of Education expects the funds to be disbursed to Connecticut in early September.

State officials decided to use the same formula used to distribute Educational Cost Sharing dollars to disperse the Education Jobs money.   Click here to find out how much your town will receive.

Connecticut, as you know, did not make the final cut for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding affirming misgivings that Commissioner McQuillan and many others have had all along regarding the efficacy of yet another federal education program that creates winners and losers. Secretary Duncan believes that RTTT has already been a great success since it has caused so many states to do wonderful things in pursuit of innovative reform. I disagree. Most states made these changes because they were the price of entry. Or, in some cases, states saw this as an opportunity to run ramshod over teachers and their unions. Fortunately, changes made in Connecticut were achieved through consensus.

On July 30 Commissioner McQuillan sent a letter to Senator Dodd expressing his concern with the shifts from formula driven distribution of federal education dollars to competitive grants in the Obama “Blueprint for Education”.  Similar, but broader, concerns were raised recently by a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National Council for Educating Black Children, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

In a press conference organized by the Lawyers Committee just prior to the annual convention of the Urban League the coalition released a 17 page document, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn Through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” Apparently, according to Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, the administration had been meeting with civil rights groups for several weeks prior to the release to attempt to deal with their concerns. To their credit, these groups decided to release the document anyway. Neither President Obama, nor his education secretary showed any signs of retreat from their positions on charter schools, or competition as a vehicle to leverage reform in separate appearances before the Urban League delegates.

So why is this important? For me the statement brings the civil rights community closer to the positions espoused by the “Broader, Bolder, Approach” coalition. While some have criticized these civil rights groups for having the temerity to criticize our first black president, they have missed the point: this is a debate that is vital to the future of public education in the United States and, with increasing dissent over many elements of the Obama Blueprint, it looks like it may happen after all. Are you ready to participate?

Some recommended reading (with an admitted bias):

A New Vision for Education (Nation June 14, 2010)

Why I Changed My Mind by Diane Ravitch (Nation June 14, 2010)

Restoring Our Schools by Linda Darling Hammond (Nation June 14, 2010)

The Black White achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley (ETS White Paper July 2010)

There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test by E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio (The American Prospect June 13, 2010)

False Impression: How a Widely Cited Study Vastly Overstates the Benefits of Charter Schools by Marco Basile (Economic Policy Institute August 9, 2010)

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