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August 10, 2010 3 min read
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DIGITAL EDUCATION

Geeks Need Apply

Momentum has been building to address the discrepancy between the demand for workers in computer science fields and the supply of qualified candidates produced by the U.S. education system. Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, introduced the Computer Science Education Act last month. If passed, it would offer grants to evaluate K-12 computer science education and implement changes across the states, create a commission to review the field’s national landscape, and even establish field-specific programs at teacher-prep institutions.

While the push to focus on science, technology, engineering, and math has been well noted, some experts say computer science is not receiving enough attention because it is wrongly assumed to fall within stem, when it actually does not. Others say students are misinformed—and therefore disinterested—about the type of jobs a computer science background can lead to. —Ian Quillen

SARA MEAD’S POLICY NOTEBOOK

Competition Is Nothing New

A lot of ink and hot air has been spilled lately around formula vs. competitive grants—largely in relation to Race to the Top. I mean, it’s not as if RTT is the only competitive federal education grant program. Nor did the Obama administration invent competitive grants. Indeed, a search for “discretionary/competitive” grant opportunities on the Department of Education’s website yields a whopping 214.

So why the big stink now? Well, for one thing, RTT is a much bigger program than most existing federal competitive-grant programs. Moreover, I’d argue that its size is one reason it should compare favorably to existing competitive-grant programs. The Education Department’s budget currently includes funding for a host of tiny programs focused on relatively narrow issues. I’m sure the projects they fund are worthy, but a few million dollars spent on a smattering of projects across the country is hardly sufficient to have transformational impacts on the education system as a whole. —Sara Mead

RICK HESS STRAIGHT UP

Core Principles

My pals Checker Finn, Mike Petrilli, and Jay Greene have been sparring over the question of whether conservatives ought to embrace the common-core standards.

I think both sides are right. Checker and Mike are absolutely correct that the standards were developed by a state-led partnership, are superior to those in place in most states, and that transparency and market efficiency can benefit dramatically from a clear, rigorous, national standard.

But Jay is right, too, in pointing out that this “state-led” effort has been aggressively driven by the Obama administration, that there’s a huge chance this will dramatically boost federal control of K-12 schooling, that status quo interests will make their influence felt, and that state and local control will be undermined.

The distance between Finn and Petrilli’s hopeful conservatism and Greene’s more skeptical discipline is well-trod turf. It’s the old Jack Kemp vs. Bob Dole divide, and it’s woven into the fabric of contemporary conservatism. —Rick Hess

TEACHER IN A STRANGE LAND

Everything But the Swimsuits

Anybody else notice the striking similarities between the Race to the Top and the Miss America Pageant? To begin, 50 contestants. Rounds of competition, based on the myth that any hometown girl or backwater state can win, if they’re apple-cheeked, spunky, and want it badly enough. And no fair calling it a beauty contest; it’s a scholarship competition.

All of this would be an amusing diversion if it weren’t for the fact that the winners of Race to the Top are awarded hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Do the right contestants win? One thing is certain: Some contestants never had a chance. With the Miss America spectacle, the losers are the other 49 girls. And the losers in Race to the Top? —Nancy Flanagan

A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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