The Problem of “Racing” To The Top

Learning is not a race. It is not a battle, it is not a war, it is not a pesky insect in your ear. Learning is something that all people do by nature of being human, and it is something to embrace. For some of my readers, this might be a bit pedantic, something that you almost blush to think about. But for others, all the talk about President Obama’s “Race to the Top” school reform agenda is confusing and belittling, and I want to explore why.

For more than 50 years the American public has been held captive to the branding of government social change efforts. Even before FDR’s “New Deal” program, which set about correcting the toil of the Great Depression, there were branding attempts by American presidents. In the 1960s Lyndon Johnson branded the “Great Society“, and with it a particular focus on succinct school funding programs, and importantly, a unified national school conversation, vis a vie the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or the ESEA. The branding effort was taken to a whole new level by President GW Bush, whose “No Child Left Behind“, or NCLB, labeling effectively recalibrated the ESSA into a wholly Bushian doctrine.

Now President Obama is riding on the coattails of Bush as he attempts to identify his political will with the more successful elements of NCLB, of which there were a few. Without boldly naming exactly what was ineffective about NCLB, and without honestly assessing the voting masses distaste for NCLB, the President is simply perpetuating the ills of his predecessor- although I’m positive his administration can justify why. The simplest form of their perpetuation is rhetoric, and with their branding of their first substantial school reform effort, “Race to the Top”, the administration is continuing down a bad path.

“Racing” is the last thing we want students to learn to do in school. Why is the administration pushing this with empty rhetoric? 

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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