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Opening Arguments

Blink test

Indiana Education Superintendent Tony Bennett is counting on improving Hoosier schools by getting a good chunck of President Obama's Race to the Top funding. And he thinks the state is in good shape to be competitive for the money, considering its renwed commitment to charter schools and some of the changes Bennett is promoting. But will Race to the Top be effective?

The federal government has poured billions into education for one fad after another, including President Bush's No Child Left Behind. Obama says this plan will succeed because if will reward only thos states that raise academic standards, improve teacher quality and expand the use of charter schools. But the The Wall Street Journal is skeptical that this effort will be any different than all the others:

Sounds great, though this White House is, at the behest of the unions, also shuttering a popular school voucher program that its own evaluation shows is improving test scores for low-income minorities in Washington, D.C. The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation's two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We'll see who blinks first. The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012.

Money is seductive, even to a state school superintendent who seems conservative, so the tendency is to go for the federal funding whether one thinks greater federal involvement in education is good or not. And no matter how common-sensical it sounds to reward high academic standards and improved teacher quality, the money will come with strings we aren't even aware of