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The Spinning Race To Nowhere

George Steinbrenner and Billy MartinNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision to fire State Education Commissioner Brett Schundler over the state’s failure to win a spot in the Race to the Top competition is reminiscent of the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner’s serial firings of manager Billy Martin: you keep looking for a way to root against both bullies.* Certainly, there is enough blame to share over New Jersey’s runner-up status.  Schundler’s embarrassing faux pas of failing to submit an up-to-date budget was in part the result of a hasty rewrite of the state’s application, an act necessitated by Christie’s last minute decision to pull the rug out from underneath the state education commissioner’s efforts to gain district and union support. And New Jersey lost far more points — more than enough to finish in the money — from Christie’s scorched earth refusal to seek common ground than from the budgetary gaffe. But Christie is the portly Queen of Hearts, much like the late Steinbrenner, so it’s off with Schundler’s head.

On the operative principle that there ain’t nothing these days you can’t blame on teachers and their unions, the New York Post rushes into the fray today with an editorial apology for Christie which asserts that it was all the fault of the New Jersey teacher unions that the state was a runner-up. Really? Is that why Christie, Schundler and their proxies are now engaged in a race to fling the most mud at each other? For what it is worth, if the issue is lying, the only question is who is better at that craft: the New Jersey agreement which Christie nixed was not all that different from the New York application which came in at the top of the competition, contrary to Christie’s assertion in the Post editorial.

It seems that the Race to the Top is ending with the equivalent of a whimper — a spinning race to nowhere. A number of the most ardent blogging fans of the ‘zero sum game’ nature of the competition, in which one state’s success had to be another state’s failure, are now engaged in a mass whining that their favored home teams did not win [see here, here and here, among other places.] While the knowledge that a number of these nay-sayers were also paid consultants to various states in the RttT process might lead a thoughtful observer to take the complaints with a grain of salt, the role of dogmatic ideology should not be underestimated. What goes unsaid in the bitter attacks on Maryland’s success, for example, is that the cause of the enmity lies in the fact that Maryland charter law does not allow the state’s charter schools to opt out of union representation for their teachers. In ‘education reform’ circles, nothing breeds a sense of entitlement like opposition to teachers and their unions.

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* Reggie Jackson famously said of Steinbrenner and Martin: “They’re made for each other. One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”

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