Race to Nowhere
Tear the schools down.


John Derbyshire

In the way these things happen, we had a sudden deluge of education stories these past few days. For this Long Islander, the news was local, state, and national.

Our local news concerned a school-district referendum on spending $2 million to add buildings to our intermediate school (grades 4-6). The backstory here is that there used to be two intermediate schools in the district, this one and another. The other was a good school, much liked by parents. Unfortunately it was located in the middle of a nasty slum with a full complement of gangs, drugs, crime, and “low-income housing.” (That last phrase is Newspeak for “custom-built slums.” What, you city types thought such things didn’t exist out here in the bosky suburbs? Let me tell you.)

There was a fatal shooting near that other school after a July Fourth party. Then in August there was a double shooting, nonfatal but dramatic enough to make the regional TV news. The school board decided the neighborhood was too dangerous for kids, and closed the school. That means more students for the first school. It was scheduled to be expanded anyway via modular classrooms (= trailers), but with this new burden, the district thought a building would be necessary, and put the matter to a referendum.

We voted it down, 863 to 624. There were a number of factors in play, but large among them, to judge from conversations with neighbors, was fed-up-ness with the education rackets and their endless and endlessly increasing demands on our wallets. This is a mainly lower-middle-class town, and a lot of people — people, I mean, who didn’t have the foresight to Get a Government Job — are hard up. Two million dollars sounds like a lot of money when you’re hard up.

Up to the state level. New York has been declared one of the winners in Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative. This is a scheme in which states can accumulate points for various kinds of federally approved educational initiatives, and win federal cash grants according to the number of points they get. The initiatives are defined as fuzzily as possible to allow for maximum politicization: “Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals” will get your state 21 points, for example. Fuzzy as the initiatives are, though, there’s enough matter in them to generate resistance from the ed-biz unions, and there have been some ugly battles in the state legislature.

To call us a “winner” is really making too much of New York’s achievement. Race to the Top is a caucus race in which well-nigh everybody gets prizes — 10 of the 18 competitors in this latest round. Furthermore, independent education watchers seem unable to find much difference between winner states and loser states. The news has nonetheless been greeted with wild rejoicing in the local media. Even the normally sensible New York Post, America’s Newspaper of Record, ran a triumphal editorial declaring that “the money is great for New York.”

No it isn’t. Not only is it not great, it’s also not money. The federal government hasn’t got any money, and its creditors are shutting off the credit spigot. The $700 million “won” by New York is pretend money, faery gold that will melt away to nothing when the trumpets sound to herald the great inflation that is coming upon us.