Help Arne Duncan Spend $5 billion!
February 19, 2009, 05:14 PM
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From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama wants to do more than save teachers' jobs or renovate classrooms with his economic recovery bill. He wants to transform the federal government's role in education.

Public schools will get an unprecedented amount of money — double the education budget under George W. Bush — from the stimulus bill in the next two years. With those dollars, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan want schools to do better. ...

The bill includes a $5 billion fund solely for these innovations, an amount that might not seem like much, considering the bill's $787 billion price tag. But it is massive compared with the $16 million in discretionary money Duncan's predecessors got each year for their own priorities.

"It's unprecedented that a secretary would have this much money and this much latitude," said Charlie Barone, director of federal policy for the group Democrats for Education Reform.

Congress laid out broad guidelines for the fund in the stimulus bill that became law on Tuesday. But it will be up to Duncan and the team of advisers he is assembling to decide how to dole out the money. They have until Oct. 1, when the next fiscal year begins, to start distributing the dollars.

What would the fund pay for? Rewarding states and school districts that are making big progress.

For example, Tennessee recently overhauled its graduation requirements and academic standards as it works to boost student achievement. As part of that effort, officials want more rigorous state tests; Tennessee has been criticized because students pass state exams with flying colors, yet they do poorly on well-regarded national tests. Better tests cost money.

Really? Raising the passing score from X% to X + 20% requires zillions from the feds?
Or in California, school officials would like to expand the ConnectEd curricula, now in 16 high schools, that links academics to actual work in aerospace, biomedicine and other careers. The program is aimed at getting students ready for college and keeping them from dropping out.
Okay, but if your program "links academics to actual work," why is it "aimed at getting students ready for college?" Perhaps I'm misinformed, but I was always under the impression that college is not work. You have to pay to go to college, but when you go to work, they pay you, right? So college<>work. ...
To get the money, states will have to show they are making good progress in four areas:

_Boosting teacher effectiveness and getting more good teachers into high-poverty, high-minority schools;

Why does everybody always assume it's a self-evidently good idea in the public schools to send good teachers to teach bad students, when nobody thinks that way about any other form of instruction?

For example, Tiger Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney, is often considered the best golf instructor in the country. And everybody simply finds that perfectly reasonable: of course Tiger has the top swing expert. The best student can absorb the most wisdom from the best teacher. And of course the best teacher wants to teach the best student.

Yet, if I were to apply Arne Duncan's conventional wisdom about public education to golf teachers, I'd say: "It's a national disgrace that the best golf teachers waste their time on the best golfers. Why is Hank Haney frittering away his time trying to cut Tiger Woods's average score from 68 to 67 when he could be cutting my average score to 96 from 114? "[Estimate based on my one round of golf in 2008, assuming I hadn't given up keeping score on the third hole in shame.]

Granted, Haney could only cut my score by 18 strokes if I also went and practiced what he taught me. Admittedly, even though I live three blocks from a driving range, I've only hit one bucket of balls there in the last nine years. But the reason I never practice must be because of society's soft bigotry of low expectations based on what my swing looks like. (I have this feeling that other golfers at the range would say to me, "Hey, buddy, Charles Barkley called. He wants his swing back.")

_Setting up data systems to track how much a student has learned from one year to the next;

_Improving academic standards and tests;

_Supporting struggling schools.

Also, at the urging of Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, the fund sets aside $650 million for school districts or districts in partnership with nonprofit groups.

$650 million for nonprofit groups?

Paging Bill Ayers!

Enough sniping, however. Please help me in the comments come up with ideas that might actually improve education.