One of the core values underpinning today’s school reform is competition---the metaphor of the race. Competitive thinking is so pervasive that we all fall into it without even noticing. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called attention to this language we use so often to describe public education when he recently said: “There are those who would make the case for a Race to the Top for those who can run. Instead ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”
An important example is the federal government’s plan to transform Title I from a formula program that delivers federal funds (admittedly so small relative to the need that these dollars don’t accomplish what we might wish they did) to schools with large numbers of or concentrations of students in poverty. The goal of Title I is to help those schools meet the students’ needs.
Title I was created back in 1965 as the cornerstone of the War on Poverty. Its purpose was to expand civil rights for children who had been left behind. The current Administration and Congress have frozen the Title I formula program in the last two budgets and re-directed the money into competitive programs like Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants, in which the states or districts with the best grant proposal writers can help their states or districts be winners.
When there are winners, there are also always losers. No state or school district should be a loser in Title I. No state or school district or school that serves children in poverty ought to lose the chance to serve those children. The difference between competitive and formula programs may seem way too deep in the weeds of policy to worry about, but it is a very profound change in our reasoning about public education---the philosophy of education.
Society should provide quality public education for all children—no winners—no losers.
NEW March, 2013: Here are the UCC's 2013 succinct, updated talking points to help faithful advocates reflect on and speak to what needs to happen today in public school reform. The federal policy context for public education advocacy has shifted as Congressional gridlock has long delayed the reauthorization of the federal education law.
January 7, 2013: Witness for Justice column explores transformation of Title I from a Civil Rights formula program into a grant competition by which the U.S. Department of Education rewards what it calls innovation: A System Where Every Poor Child Is a Winner.