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Education

Education Department Cancels Obama-Era Diversity Grants

The Washington Post is reporting that the “Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities” grant program, announced during the final days of the Obama administration, will not be continuing under Betsy DeVos. Considering the program’s poor performance, this move is not only prudent but aligns neatly with DeVos’s stated philosophy that Washington should not dictate the policies of individual schools.

DeVos’s critics are vexed, with some declaring that she’s “Ending the School-Integration Comeback.” But her remarks at the Brookings Institution yesterday make a compelling case against federal models for turning schools around:

The reflexive question asked, often politely, by critics of choice is why should we not simply fix the broken schools first? If only schools received more funding, they say, the schools could provide a better learning environment for those being left behind.

But of course we’ve already tried that, and it’s proven not to work. We know because it was a signature plank of the previous administration’s education agenda: the School Improvement Grants (SIG).

Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said just last year that the SIG program was their “biggest bet” on education.

Well he was right on one thing: The size of the bet certainly was big. The administration ended up spending $7 billion on trying to fix targeted schools.

It’s interesting that the previous administration waited until January 18 of this year to release the final results of its “biggest bet.” The report, released by the Department’s Institute of Education Sciences, stated, “Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.”

No significant impact.”

At what point do we accept the fact that throwing money at the problem isn’t the solution? I’m not trying to vilify the motives of SIG’s backers. But good intentions and billions of dollars clearly aren’t enough to give students what they need to succeed.

Let me be clear, if we can identify a school turnaround model that shows promise, I want to learn about it. If we find a solution that demonstrates consistent results, I want to support it. But waiting and hoping for a miracle, while blocking efforts that can help millions of children immediately, is simply not something this administration will abide.

In other words: DeVos shares her critics’ ends, but fundamentally disagrees with their means.

For anyone wondering why diversity grants do not live up to their billing, consider the inchoate goals that the Obama administration had for the “Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities” program:

The Department will invest $12 million in up to 20 districts or groups of districts to fund the development of blueprints for increasing socioeconomic diversity in schools and complete pre-implementation activities focused on student diversity. Grantees may also seek to promote student diversity by considering additional factors beyond socioeconomic diversity, including race and ethnicity, in their efforts to diversify schools. Grantees will use funds to, for example, engage the community on the best approaches to promote student diversity, conduct data analysis, set measureable diversity goals, and take preliminary steps toward implementation of school diversity efforts (e.g. piloting activities such as admissions lotteries or redesigned school assignment boundaries).

An interesting question: Why did Obama and then-education secretary John B. King Jr. assume that these diversity grants would work better than SIG did? Both grant programs follow the administration’s flawed model: paying schools vast sums of money to implement Washington mandates, the efficacy of which is unsupported by available data. Schools that joined the program were showered in cash and educational buzzwords like those above, but they showed no improvement.

In her talk, DeVos said, “we must shift the paradigm to think of education funding as investments made in individual children, not in institutions or buildings.” School improvement schemes hatched in Washington epitomize the investment in “institutions and buildings” rather than children, and they have characteristically failed to do much for students.

 

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