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The 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.

Race to the Top Redistributes Income

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.

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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.

The 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.

mark naison

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