THE PLANK AUGUST 14, 2009
States will soon be applying for shares of the Race to the Top (RTTT) Fund, a $4.35-billion portion of the stimulus package that the Department of Education will dole out based on states' commitment to education reform. There are 19 criteria for receiving RTTT money. These will be finalized after states review them this month, but currently, they include requirements that states should already have received stabilization funds from the stimulus (most have, despite some slow-pokes), that they should lift caps on charter schools, and that they should not prohibit linking student test scores to teacher assessments. (The latter has already spurred heated debate, and the charter schools requirement has produced a few tweaks to state law.) The Department of Education has gauged that it will take states about 642 hours just to apply for the funds, which they must do by December.
RTTT is proof that the Obama administration is willing to push for big changes in education. And yet, 20 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, and, earlier this week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that almost a fifth of students struck by teachers suffer from disabilities. In other words, a teacher in North Carolina legally can spank an autistic student whom he feels is acting out of turn. Seems to me that, to receive RTTT funds, states should be required once and for all to ban corporal punishment. After all, beating prisoners is illegal. Beating school children should be, too.
In late July, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to state school chiefs asking that they review their "seclusion and restraint techniques" used on students to ensure that they are not "abusive and potentially deadly." That's a fine gesture, but there has been no such letter regarding corporal punishment sent out since the HRW report was released, nor is there any mention of abuse in RTTT criteria. (The Department of Education hasn't responded to request for comment.)
Pushing for anything less than an outright ban on all forms of classroom abuse reveals a gap in the administration's professed commitment to making schools better, safer, and stronger.