Race to the Top: Where’s the Finish Line?


Is Obama's incentive-based education plan a sprint or a jog?If we put the Obama Administration's Race to the Top grant in running terms, is it the 100-yard dash of education reform – a quick shot of cash in exchange for surface level reforms-or a 400-yard relay requiring team effort, strategic thinking and genuine long-term change?With stipulations that teachers unions, local school boards and state officials have to work together to apply, we had early hints this might be a relay race to the top. It can be a challenge to get those groups to agree on which shoe to tie first, but with $4 billion at stake and budget coffers bone dry, 40 states and the District of Columbia demonstrated their allegiance to the financial bottom line by submitting applications produced with varying levels of collaboration.Maybe President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have a marathon in mind instead? Obama announced he'll be requesting an additional $1.35 billion to include Race to the Top in his 2011 budget. This request most likely means Race to the Top, which is already the single-largest discretionary program in the history of the U.S. Department of Education, is on track to become the reform blueprint that will reshape education policy.So what are these reforms? The cornerstones are the kind of common-sense policies that could mean real progress for public education, but let's demystify them:1) Adopt standards and assessments that will make kids college or career-ready. This means hold all kids to high academic expectations and teach to those expectations. If a math standard requires teaching multiplication, actually teach 2 x 2=4, not 2+2=4.2) Have a way to measure and track student progress. Teachers should give tests and quizzes often enough to know whether students have learned the material, and use that data to inform how they teach.3) Recruit, train, and keep great staff. Just like any business, schools have to hire the right people, provide them with skill building and leadership opportunities, and reward them if they do a good job. Otherwise, great staff might jump ship, or even worse, lose their passion for teaching but stay aboard anyway.4) Turn around the lowest-achieving schools. If the staff isn't getting the job done, hiring new people with an innovative vision might be the best thing. Schools may have to close, get restarted, or have their staff transferred for real improvement to happen.Sounds simple, right? Maybe so, but opponents have pointed out possible pitfalls. If test results are equated with teacher effectiveness, these numbers will inform which teachers are granted tenure or rehired. But how much more difficult is the task of an 11th grade English teacher with students who read at a 4th grade level than the 11th grade teacher whose students walk in the door at grade level? Race to the Top allows flexibility for states and local districts to decide what works best for them. Of course, so much flexibility could lead to in-name-only changes and political jockeying.Such political posturing may have led Texas Governor Rick Perry to reject the grant. He says it federalizes education. Almost 40 percent of Houston freshman don't graduate on time, but if we follow Perry's thinking, parents should be fine if their kids drop out due to state and local education policies.While there's no guarantee every state will win Race to the Top money, at the very least the grant is leading the major players to articulate their philosophy of education and commit publicly to what they're going to do (or not do) to turn around failing schools.Ultimately, the winners of any education "race" have to be the kids. Students at lower-achieving schools don't care which political party or stakeholder comes up with reforms. Kids just want to learn, and they'd love it if the adults in their lives would step up and change things so they arrive at the college finish line equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.Liz Dwyer is the Pepsi Refresh Project Ambassador for Education. Learn more about the Pepsi Refresh Project here, and submit your own idea for how to move the world forward here.

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Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

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For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

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Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

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The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

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