Last year Secretary of Education Arne Duncan created a program named “Race to the Top” which would make grants to states that are willing to make certain reforms. Two such reforms prominently mentioned by Duncan and President Barack Obama are charter schools and merit pay for teachers.
We now know that Kansas was not selected to receive a grant, at least not in the first round. Kansas had applied for $166 million.
Kansas is falling behind the rest of the states in the types of innovation that Race to the Top was designed to promote. Specifically, the Kansas charter school law is weak. Anyone wishing to start a charter school must seek approval of the local school district. Most school districts in Kansas, especially the Wichita district, are hostile towards any lessening of the government school monopoly. As a result, there are very few charter schools in Kansas. It is likely that this played a role in the decision not to award a grant to Kansas.
Kansas is also unlikely to implement any sort of merit pay for teachers. As I reported last year in Kansas school establishment rejects reform: “In particular, the document Teaching in Kansas Commission: Final report, makes it clear that teacher merit pay in Kansas is not desired unless it is so watered-down as to be meaningless.”
Besides resisting merit pay, the Kansas National Education Association (or KNEA, the teachers union) is also opposed to charter schools. The national teachers union is too, as the Wall Street Journal reported last year: “NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility.”
It turns out that the prediction of Secretary Duncan was fulfilled. Kansas, with a teachers union that blocks reform at every step, is failing to keep up with innovations in education. Kansas should implement these reforms for their own good.