Having just watched The Hunger Games with my two boys earlier today, Effie Trinket’s Capitol slogan, “May the odds be EVER in your favor,” struck me as the perfect tag line for Arne Duncan’s NCLB waivers, officially known as ESEA Flexibility. The irony in the line applies equally well to public education as it does to the unfortunate tributes in the movie, with the odds stacked against both sets of players by the heavy-hand of those living in a Capitol city.
Other parallels exist between the young adult screenplay and Duncan’s Race to the Top (RTTT). Consider tributes from the twelve districts in Panem battling against other tributes for survival in a government controlled arena. In a not so violent, but equally damaging way, NCLB with its Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) mandate forces a ranking, and potential closing, or other significant disruption, to schools and their districts across America. This annual Accountability Game pits students against standardized tests where scores on the test are nearly meaningless to many students, but can be the death knell for the school, its teachers, or its administrators. This matchup occurs irrespective of the inequity inherent in requiring all students to score similarly without controlling for the diverse range of support and supplemental resources available across varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Specifically, those living in poverty are at an incredible disadvantage over those from more advantaged environments, with odds akin to a twelve-year old physically battling an eighteen-year old. Cue Duncan to proclaim, “May the odds be EVER in your favor.”
Further like The Hunger Games, states compete against each other via RTTT in a perverse belief that doing so will reap improvements in student achievement, much like the Reaping maintains peace between the Capitol and the twelve subservient districts by reminding the districts whose boss. Just meet your AYP and your district might save itself from the next onerous decree emanating from the Capitol.
Hopefully for students of public education, a Katniss will rise up to thwart Duncan and his Capitol crew’s efforts to control school districts across America. Could it be California’s superintendent of schools, Tom Torlakson? Or Texas governor, Rick Perry? Perhaps in a nod to the movie, they can unite forces and agree to reach for the education industry’s equivalent of a handful of nightlock berries? Maybe that will shake the foundations of the education reformers in the Capitol placing bets on the Accountability Games? I’d like to think so, but somehow I think a sequel might be needed where rebellion reigns supreme.