Three sticking points could stunt stimulus education reform

President Obama is asking states to make education reforms in exchange for nearly $40 billion in stimulus funds for schools. But his aspirations might be on a collision course with several competing realities, writes Allison Armour-Garb with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in a commentary for "The first tension is between the fund’s dual goals of spending dollars quickly to save jobs, while at the same time investing in reforms that advance long-term goals," Armour-Garb writes. Paradoxically, it might be the neediest states that will be in the weakest position to compete for the $5 billion in discretionary reform funds known as Race to the Top. A second tension is "between the stimulus provisions pushing states to improve their standards and assessments, and countervailing incentives under NCLB." The stimulus law asks states to ratchet up their standards, yet NCLB actually works against those requirements by giving state and local education officials incentives to "dumb down" the tests. "Can states handle the Recovery Act’s countervailing pressures to make standards tougher?" Armour-Garb writes. A third tension is between the law’s "quite specific reform goals, on the one hand, and the allowable uses of funds–which are very broad indeed–on the other…"

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