Education secretary has $5B for states ‘race to the top’

Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 12:00am
Molly Peterson and Oliver Staley, Bloomberg News

The Obama administration will direct $5 billion in stimulus money to a “minority” of states to prod school districts to boost student achievement and weed out lagging schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The money for what Duncan calls a “race to the top” will help spur states facing unprecedented budget shortfalls to make reforms, he said in an interview Wednesday. Those changes include tying teacher pay to performance.

“I want to reward excellence, and reward teachers who take on the toughest assignments,” said Duncan, 44, the former head of Chicago’s public schools.

Duncan said he expects to create “a national scorecard” within a year, with a set of states leading the way to change. He also wants to “dramatically raise the bar” by creating federal performance standards under the No Child Left Behind Act created under President George W. Bush.

“We’re basically lying to children and families now” about student achievement, he said. Each state sets it own goals, leading “to a real dumbing down of standards,” he said.

The law requires states to measure student achievement through standardized tests. States that don’t show yearly progress can lose some federal funds.

“The big thing I want to do is put out what is sort of a national scorecard — a series of metrics that we’d put out every single year,” he said. “I’m a big believer in looking at outcomes. I’m going to look at high-school graduation rates and college graduation rates.”

In addition, $44 billion in stimulus funds already distributed to states will help stave off a “disaster” by saving hundreds of thousands of teaching job that would otherwise be lost in state cutbacks, Duncan said.