Remarks on Race to the Top (RTTT)
Expanded version of comments submitted to regulations.gov on Race to the Top
August 27, 2009
Standards supporters are telling us "that poor kids in crumbling urban schools will have equal opportunity for a quality education if we institute national tests and tell kids they can't graduate if they don't master quadratic equations" (Ohanian, 1999, p. 5).
The major rationale for the RTTT is the claim that the US needs to improve its educational system drastically to keep up with the rest of the world, to be able to compete with other countries. In reality, the US is already very competitive: In fact, the US ranks first in the world (out of 134 countries) in "global competitiveness." (World Competitiveness Report, World Economic Forum).
The STEM (Science, Technical, Engineering, and Mathematics) shortage
"… the impending shortage of scientists and engineers is one of the longest running hoaxes in the country" (Bracey, 2009).
One of the major priorities of the RTTT is to "Prepare more students for advanced study and careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics." There is no shortage of STEM-trained professionals, in fact, there is a surplus (Teitelbaum, 2007; Toppo and Vergano, 2009; Bracey, 2009). In addition, the US ranks at or near the top of the world on all categories related to STEM education and availability of expertise: According to the World Economic Federation, the US ranks 6th out of 134 countries in "availability of scientists & engineers," first in "quality of scientific research institutions" and first in "university-industry research collaboration."
Our schools are bad. Our students' scores on international tests are mediocre.
Students from well-funded schools who come from high-income families score outscore all or nearly all other countries on international tests. Only our children in high poverty schools score below the international average (Payne and Biddle, 1999; Bracey, 2009; Martin, 2009) The US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 3%). Our educational system has been successful; the problem is poverty.