For New Race to Top Competition, Obama Is the Prize

By Erik W. Robelen — February 25, 2010 1 min read
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I don’t know about you, but I can’t recall who delivered the commencement address at my college graduation ceremony. But the class of 2010 at a school somewhere across the nation will surely remember theirs. The White House recently announced that it is inviting public high schools to compete to have President Obama personally deliver the commencement speech at their school.

Given the Obama administration’s apparent obsession great interest in promoting competitions for funding at the U.S. Department of Education, it may come as little surprise that the White House is making this initiative yet another competition. As if to drive home that point, it’s being dubbed the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.

Time is running short. The deadline for applications, which must be completed by students and submitted by their principal, is March 15. The application’s four essay questions focus on “demonstrating how the school is helping prepare students to meet the president’s 2020 goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” the White House explains, adding that “data that substantiates each answer is strongly encouraged.”

An Associated Press story about the announcement reminds us that, not long ago, the White House stirred up quite a bit of controversy after Obama revealed his plans last fall to deliver a televised back-to-school speech to students.

An Education Week story examined how the apparent “national pep talk to students ended up as the first major political misstep for a recently minted U.S. Department of Education team,” with Secretary Duncan and his staff spending the days leading up to the event “deflecting largely partisan warnings that the president would impose his policy views on a captive audience of schoolchildren.”

Meanwhile, tomorrow, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will appear as a guest teacher at an elementary school classroom in the District of Columbia to discuss the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship. The effort is part of Teach for America Week 2010.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.