Whose Race to the Top?

A new investigation into the charter schools run by Joe Biden's brother Frank, a self-proclaimed "PT Barnum" of charters, raises interesting implications for the Obama Administration's educational policy known as Race to the Top.

As many, including the U.S. Department of Education which oversees RTTT, have pointed out, states that embrace charter schools are winning the race. As DOE materials put it, "President Obama has called upon states to encourage the expansion of charter schools. A network of innovative and high-achieving charter schools can be an important part of a state's school reform effort. However, charter schools are facing significant obstacles to expansion in too many states."

Is this an entirely disinterested reform effort? Many others have raised concerns about the neoliberalism inherent in RTTT, which shapes the dominance of private business interests over common public goods. For example, in a recent article two researchers from Occidental College document the actions taken by Arne Duncan in Chicago, where Renaissance 2000 threatened participatory democracy by excluding parents from key decisions including the closing of schools, an action that the Consortium for Chicago School Research did not find to be beneficial for student outcomes.

The "unintended" consequences of capitalizing school markets are numerous, but one also has to wonder about the intended consequences as well. As it turns out, Vice President Biden, a guy I have generally liked, has family interests in the charter school movement. This most recent investigation, which in full disclosure I will say was conducted by my sister Lisa Rab, makes me further wonder whether the Race to the Top is really about the 99% of America's students-- or truly about advancing the advantages of the 1%. As usual.

PS. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post also covered this story, on December 10, several weeks after Lisa began writing about it.