Arne Duncan & Feds Spending Freely, Doing Little for Real School Reform

Yesterday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to town. The good news is he visited two of Denver’s autonomy schools: Bruce Randolph and Montclair. The Education Secretary certainly is saying the right things about how this approach can grow:

“The business we should be in is scaling up what works as quickly as possible,” Duncan said. “Let’s take those lessons, let’s replicate them and move on absolutely as fast as we can with a sense of urgency. We have to get dramatically better as a country, and we need to do it as fast as we can.”

The $5 billion pot of “Race to the Top” innovation money is supposed to fulfill this purpose. As pointed out by Swifty Charlie and Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli, the reality is that “Race to the Top” is the only part of the federal stimulus funds that has even a legitimate shot at advancing school reform. Colorado may make some modest strides with the innovation dollars, but it very well could be outweighed by the much greater opportunity and resources wasted.

The details (PDF) from the U.S. Department of Education to states about what needs to be done to get the “stabilization” dollars prove the case raised by Charlie and Petrilli. Some had hoped that this $100 billion or so would promote reform. But they should have listened to my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow, who wrote about the time President Obama signed the so-called “stimulus” package into law:

Rather than helping, the large amount of free-flowing federal funds may end up undermining efforts to improve educational opportunity in Colorado. It too heavily subsidizes the status quo, while needlessly placing promising innovations at risk.

It gets worse. According to our local expert Denise, Colorado charter schools should not count on federal stimulus money to make up for their ongoing inequity in capital construction funding.

And this part is extremely disappointing. The federal “stimulus” throws $100 billion at K-12 schools (and that would fill up a lot of piggy banks) to sustain a status quo that isn’t getting the job done, but can’t bother to spare a few million to save a voucher program for poor students in Washington, D.C., that is showing real results of helping students improve reading.

Reform, you say? Nope. Nothing to see here. Move along. …More money poured down the “rat hole”