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Op-Ed - Garrett: Race to the Top Gaffe is a Teachable Moment


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By Representative Scott Garrett

Published by The Record on August 29th, 2010

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 10 finalists for the "Race to the Top" initiative. Enacted shortly after President Obama took office, this program allows states to apply for federal education funding after they implement educational reforms in line with the goals of the Obama Administration.

As most are aware of by now, New Jersey was not a recipient of the funding.

While my congressional colleagues and I will do what we can to ensure that New Jersey's application was -- and will continue to be -- treated fairly, it's my hope that no matter what happens, we can take a step back and use this experience as a teachable moment.

After all, it is illustrative of a broader problem we face: Greater and greater control of our educational system is being wrested from our local school boards and placed into the hands of faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.


Governor Christie has proposed a series of ambitious educational reforms for the state. There will undoubtedly be robust debate about these reforms in the state Legislature. This is where the debate about educational reform should be taking place -- at the state level. Indeed, it's where our Founding Fathers intended it to take place.

It is absurd that New Jersey should have to apply to get its own money back in the first place. Why should New Jersey's hardworking taxpayers continue to send money to the U.S. Treasury so that Washington bureaucrats can dole out money to states that have most closely conformed to their ideas of reform?

Proponents of Race to the Top will tell you it was a temporary program aimed at spurring education policy innovation. What they will not tell you, however, is that the effect will likely be a race to conformity.

Worse, this latest initiative fits a recurring pattern we have seen in recent years. When President Bush was in office, he signed the infamous No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB supposedly created an accountability system for our nation's schools, whereby students are tested each year, and the school administration is held accountable to their test outcomes.

NCLB completely missed the mark. It centralized accountability with Washington bureaucrats, completely bypassing the legislators in 50 state capitals, countless township school boards and local elected officials, and -- most importantly -- administrators, educators and parents all across the nation.

It would be one thing if all of this increased federal control has benefited our students in any measurable way. But as countless studies have shown, it hasn't. In fact, things have just gotten worse.

It's time to return to the system our founders envisioned. It's time to return education policy back to the local communities. It's time to start putting our children first.

I have a plan that would do just that.

The Local Education Authority Returns Now Act is a solution to the problem of increased federal control over education. It would allow states to cut the ties of federal mandates that go along with federal money, by allowing a state to opt out of federal education programs, while at the same time allowing states to keep their federal education funding -- including their share of competitive grant funding like Race to the Top.

Local control

The LEARN Act gives control back to local educators, allowing them to pursue their educational initiatives based on what they believe will best help their students. Local school districts then set their own standards, enforce their own penalties for failure, and establish their own goals for teachers and students.

Accountability would be transferred from D.C. bureaucrats to the people who know the schools and the students personally.

If we are truly interested in changing public education in America, we need to remove Washington bureaucrats from the equation and return the control and accountability to local communities where they can truly effect change in the areas they know it is needed the most.

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