I am writing in regard to Montana Superintendent of Schools Denise Juneau’s effort to apply for the federal Race to the Top funds. President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided to use a reward strategy in crafting the Race to the Top agenda. The federal funds (up to $74 million for Montana) are to be given to those states that initiate certain reforms. This presents a problem for Juneau as she apparently joined forces with the teachers unions to lock in the status quo. Juneau has stated that such reforms at charter schools, adopting national standards and including student test scores in the process of teacher evaluation will not work in Montana. The reforms that the president is promoting are, however, fundamental to school improvement regardless of location.
It is apparent that Juneau is following the same kind of knee-jerk policy that has existed for a long time in Helena. This is a policy of carefully avoiding any confrontation with the education establishment.
This strategy may well work and the federal funds may be granted. Duncan could allow Montana to slide by without an attempt at reform. If, however, such a decision were made, then this would constitute a fundamental lack of integrity in President Obama’s approach toward guiding the states to develop better schools.