Is it just me, or is the on-again, off-again California-Arne Duncan romance just like a John Hughes movie? Duncan is like the cute popular guy who stood us up on our last date, coming around again all contrite and promising to make it up to us by taking us to the prom with a limo and everything. Can we trust him? How will it end for sweet, impoverished California? Will his snobby friends accept us?
What I mean is this: there’s a lot of speculation out there that California might enter Round II of Race to the Top after all, but take things in a very different direction after our dismal showing in Round I of the national competition for education dollars. The state was reportedly just days away from dropping out of the race entirely, but after some heavy lobbying from Federal officials — Education Secretary Duncan reportedly made a personal call to Governor Schwarzenegger over the weekend, urging that the state resubmit its application — the state has come up with a new idea. John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation reports:
Instead of revising the state plan and then pitching it again to every district and union local, California would limit its application to a handful of forward-thinking urban districts with predominately minority, low-income students: Long Beach, Fresno, Los Angeles Unified, and perhaps a few others willing to commit to stronger reforms than in the first round.
The state would make the case that the three to six participating districts, with upward of 850,000 students, are still larger than most states, and would set an example for other California districts.
Maybe, but it’s still a long shot. We didn’t even come close the last time around, largely due to the lack of union support. I don’t see that changing if the competition continues to demand things like setting aside seniority provisions and using test scores to evaluate teachers. The speculation is that Duncan is wooing California because he’s worried too many states will withdraw from the competition, endangering Congress’ support for the President’s overall educational agenda.
That seems to sum up the administration’s game (and our plot) pretty clearly: woo high-profile California with cash and encouragement, demand wide-ranging (and highly questionable) reforms, then drive off into the sunset with states that started with more per-student funding in the first place (AKA the well-endowed head cheerleader). I’d love to cast Duncan as the cute, smart bystander who sees our potential and gets the last dance, but it’s really not looking like that’s the part we can trust him to play.