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Monday, April 19, 2021

Race to the Top, Part II: More Money, But Is It For The Kids?

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Mike Matthews
Mike Matthews
Mike Matthews is a fifth-grade teacher from Wilmington, Del. You can “friend” him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/downwithabsolutes

There is much to be said in response to Delaware’s recent awarding of a $50 million early-childhood-education grant. I’d like to first congratulate the State for its collaborative effort in securing this grant. As there was very little skepticism shown during the Race to the Top process and how that money would trickle down to the classrooms, I’m hoping that due skepticism was shown here.

 

First things first: I am very intrigued by Rodel Foundation CEO Paul Herdman’s mixing of percents and raw numbers in a recent News Journal article titled “Little learners get big boost.” Mr. Herdman says “only about 5% of high-needs children birth to age 5 have access to high-quality early childhood education.” He follows up by saying this grant will benefit more than 10,000 children directly. What is that percentage, Mr. Herdman? Is that 10,000 children per year of 10,000 children over the life of the grant?

 

As well, according to the article by News Journal reporter Nichole Dobo, these funds will be used to train early childhood educators, more assessment of children, and money to pay a better wage for those working in the field. How do you foresee meeting those lofty goals and dramatic enrollment increases, Mr. Herdman, if a bulk of those funds aren’t going to fund ADDITIONAL TEACHERS in that field? If your goal is to see a dramatic INCREASE in students accessing these services, then wouldn’t it make sense that a large portion of those funds should go towards more teachers?

 

As we’ve come to learn with Race to the Top, most of the money isn’t actually trickling down to the classrooms in ways that teachers and students can tangibly see. It’s going to the Department of Education for more and more layers of edu-bureaucracy and edu-wonkery courtesy of whatever new-fangled edu-reform is coming out of Washington. What isn’t being shaved off and sent to Dover is being spent on data coaches from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., who are honestly proving to have little impact on our ability to drive instruction. As well, professional development that many teachers find abysmally insulting and useless, accounts for much of the spending.

 

I think I know why so little of these funds are going toward the hiring of new teachers and support staff in our schools. The inherent unsustainability in grants like this and Race to the Top mean we can’t make those CRITICALLY IMPORTANT investments in our CLASSROOMS because the money is going to RUN OUT. We would risk massive layoffs of teachers and support staff once this money expires, unless, of course, our state legislature could find a way to fill that gap once it does. Fat chance.

 

Study after study shows that our highest-needs schools REQUIRE lower student-to-faculty ratios. REQUIRE more support staff such as FULL-TIME psychologists, FULL-TIME speech therapists, FULL-TIME occupational therapists, FULL-TIME guidance counselors (two or three in some of our schools!), FULL-TIME family-crisis therapists. FULL-TIME assistant principals. MULTIPLE FULL-TIME behavior interventionists.

 

Until we begin funding and treating our schools like community centers that stay open well past the school day and that provide critical services to those high-needs communities, then there is a slim chance we’re going to see any turnaround in these schools that desperately require our assistance. No amount of professional development or micro-management from Department of Education folks is going to change this. To put it another way, we need MORE boots on the ground in our high-poverty schools. Race to the Top does not satisfy this need. Will this early childhood mini-grant fill that gap?

 

Color me skeptical.

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