Education Opinion

A Race to the Mulberry Stump

By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 20, 2010 2 min read
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Oh. So now it’s a race?

I like races. I am a sprinter so I am used to running races. I have been in a lot of them and the more races you have been in the more victories (and the more losses) you earn. The more strategies you can leverage.

“The mulberry stump, a hundred yards ahead in the clearing. First one that touches it is the winner. On your mark... get set...”

I don’t wait for “go”. (That’s the secret to winning short sprints. You time it just right. You jump the gun-- but you don’t get caught!)


So now it’s a race. And we are in it. But on our own terms.

Yesterday, 40 states entered the “Race to the Top” Sweepstakes. California is in. But my charter school isn’t. In fact half the districts in San Diego County and many up and down the state decided to pass on the federal dough. The San Diego Union Tribune recently ran an editorial taunting educators for being “afraid of improving student performance by increasing accountability.” They chided those of us who chose not to run in Arne’s race. The premise was that in the current budget crisis we ought to be all in. And if we aren’t it’s “because we don’t want to be held accountable.”

The editorial also posited that by not signing on to a blind mandate, we...

• are fighting educational reform
• have trouble committing
• don’t believe that all students can learn
• don’t believe that parents should have a say in their children’s education
• resist using regular assessments, and
• are influenced by the teacher’s unions.

The editorial did not address the other reasons why many of us chose no to run this particular race. For example: my charter school is already a model for education reform. We have demonstrated huge academic growth in students whom others think can not learn. Parents come here by choice. We assess students weekly (OARS) and quarterly (MAPS) and engage in constant conversations about program adjustments and course changes. We select and train our own committed teachers. There is no union.

And the $4 billion dollars in federal prize money will be “awarded” to just 4 of the 40 states that applied. By the time it trickles out to the school sites, it amounts to less than $100 per student. We have a waiting list to get into my school and can match Arne’s prize money-- without surrendering our autonomy-- by adding 15 students.

So if this is a race... make no mistake about it.... we are in. And we will win. But we won’t run it on your terms. Or the San Diego Union-Tribune’s terms. Or-- with all due respect to President Obama on this first anniversary of his historic inauguration-- the ambiguous terms of Race to the Top.

See you at the mulberry stump.

“On your mark... get set...”

Posted by Kevin W. Riley
El Milagro Weblog

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.