Race to the Top Redistributes Income to the Top

Race to the Top Redistributes IncomeThe Obama Administration’s signature education program, Race to the Top (RTTT), is promoted as an ambitious effort to increase the nation’s global competitiveness by insuring its young people are “college and career ready” by producing greater equity and narrowing “the achievement gap” between poor and middle class students. Whether it achieves either of these goals is open to question, but one thing it has definitely not done is reduce child poverty. There is an ever widening Black/White, Black/Latino wealth gap, with the concentration of wealth and income among the top 5 percent of earners increasing during the Obama presidency.

Why is this the case and why has this ambitious education reform effort promoted income distribution UPWARD, rather than downward?

Let’s look at how the money is spent. To receive federal education grants, RTTT requires that teachers be evaluated on the basis of student test scores, that schools be closed when they are judged to be failing — largely on the basis of student tests scores — and that restrictions on charter schools be removed so that they can be given preference in replacing failing public schools.

If one were to look at the kinds of jobs this program generates, you will see why this legislation has been an economic engine in reverse for poor and working class families, actually taking jobs and income out of their communities.

The tests themselves are a huge expense, largely produced by private companies like Pearson and McGraw Hill.  Few if any of the people who work for the test divisions of these companies live in the communities where the tests are given — communities like the Bronx, or Newark’s Central Ward, or the East Side of Buffalo or North Philadelphia. Then you have to purchase software to evaluate the tests, from companies like Microsoft. And last, you need “accountability officers” in Departments of Education to evaluate the data and determine its impact on schools and individual teachers. What you have here is a huge multi-billion dollar jobs program for upper-middle class Americans, often from the nation’s most expensive elite colleges.

And this huge expense is not a zero sum game. In a time of recession and fiscal austerity, school budgets have to be cut to pay for the testing. That means eliminating large numbers of positions. School aides, librarians, guidance counselors, teachers, even cleaners and custodians will lose their jobs.  Although some of the job loss affects people who live in middle class communities, a good portion affects people who live in working class neighborhoods — the neighborhoods Race to the Top is allegedly designed to help. The result? While schools in low income neighborhoods are allegedly made more competitive by these policies, the neighborhoods around them suffer a significant income loss.

Charter school preference has a similar result. In every city where charter schools have replaced public schools, veteran unionized teachers have been replaced by young, non-union teachers straight out of college, some of them from Teach For America. This also produces an income drain, as teachers who come from a similar background as their students are replaced by young sojourners who rarely, if ever become long-term residents of the neighborhoods they live in.

mark naisonThe Obama Administration continues to promote Race to the Top as a great egalitarian initiative, even proclaiming “Teacher Appreciation Week” to be “National Charter School Week.” But when you  look at the income streams RTTT creates, directly and indirectly, you are forced to conclude that it results in jobs and income LEAVING poor and working class communities rather than coming into it.

Bluntly put, in strictly economic terms, Race to the Top represents a huge subsidy for test and software companies while serving as a jobs program for the upper middle class.

Mark Naison
With A Brooklyn Accent

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

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Comments

  1. ronwf says

    “Why is this the case and why has this ambitious education reform effort promoted income distribution UPWARD, rather than downward?”

    Perhaps you need to take a course in logic. The fact that income distribution disparities have increased since this program was put in doesn’t mean that it is responsible for that increase. Numerous factors influence income distribution. It’s just as likely that income distribution would have become even worse without this program!

    “Few if any of the people who work for the test divisions of these companies live in the communities where the tests are given ”

    Say what? Those tests are given in every school district in the country. This statement cannot possibly be true.

    “What you have here is a huge multi-billion dollar jobs program for upper-middle class Americans, often from the nation’s most expensive elite colleges.”

    And this makes it different from any other government program – including those favored by the left – how? Most of the top 10 wealthiest municipalities in the U.S. are now surrounding Washington D.C.

    “Charter school preference has a similar result.”

    In Chicago there are 2x as many students on waiting lists for charter schools as there are spots in them already. And these are not white parents, these are minority parents. How is it that what minority parents want for their children is less important than your concerns for unionized teachers? Aren’t you pro-choice?

    • johnnm says

      You are incorrect on the numbers of families on waiting lists for
      Charter schools. There have been many recent articles on the inflation
      and inaccuracy of these lists. As a matter of fact, most Chicago
      Charters are currently spending huge amounts on marketing materials to
      try to get families to attend. Charters in Chicago have as good or worse
      academic results with their students and are havens for corruption (try
      googling UNO.) Oh, and if you’re child has an IEP forget it! You will
      not be picked. Special Ed students=bad test results in the minds of
      charter operators. Do you even live in Chicago? Maybe you should do some
      research first, before you comment using the status quo talking points
      about Chicago education that seem to inundate the national media.

  2. says

    Insightful analysis of RTTT. How do communities and districts challenge this inequity? The RTTT in the NYS Education Department employs not only an upper class but they are nearly all white. So RTTT has been a way for the children of upper Americans to find work stay employed.

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