Marcus: RttT Is No Kabuki

December 16, 2009

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the past I’ve suggested, in response to Mike Petrilli’s cheerleading for it, that Race to the Top is just a bunch of kabuki. In today’s Washington Examiner, Marcus begs to differ:

Race to the Top has emboldened reform-minded policymakers like Bloomberg to push hard for their ideas. Just as importantly, the lure of earning federal dollars makes the reform position an appealing default for those policymakers whose primary interest lies outside education.

For instance, before Race to the Top, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paid only brief lip service to education reform. After the grant competition was announced, the Governator called a special session of the state legislature and pushed for a series of meaningful reforms such as eliminating the state’s charter school cap, using data to evaluate student and teacher performance, and adopting a performance pay program for teachers.

I would argue back, but I’m not sure I can. Just last week I praised Bloomberg’s move to push the envelope on interpreting the state’s ban on evaluating teachers with test scores as “gutsball.” By doing so, have I already conceded Marcus’s (and therefore Mike’s) point?

I suppose I could argue that Bloomberg was a reformer even before RttT came along. Maybe he would have played gutsball on the teacher test score ban even without RttT. But it’s hard to think that RttT has nothing to do with his renewed boldness. After all, using test scores in teacher evaluations is an agenda set by RttT. And, as Marcus points out, Bloomberg staged the announcement of his gutsball move in D.C., not New York. Was Bloomberg pushing for this particular reform before? And could he have won on that issue if not for RttT’s covering fire?

I suppose I could argue that the use of test scores as “one element” in teacher evaluations will inevitably be nothing more than a symbolic victory. Trouble is, I’ve always argued that symbols matter. There’s no such thing as a merely symbolic victory.

I suppose I could argue that RttT is promoting bad ideas as well as good ones. And that would be true – but it wouldn’t establish that RttT is kabuki. Quite the opposite; the more we fear RttT for promoting bad ideas, the more we confirm that whatever it is, it isn’t kabuki.

It’s beginning to feel like I may owe Mike an apology. Stay tuned.

%d bloggers like this: