The Obama adminstration’s Race To The Top (RTTT) is over, at least for now. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, announced on Tuesday that nine states and the District of Columbia have been awarded a share of the $3.4 billion left in Round Two of the federal grant competition.
(You may remember that in March only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were announced as winners in Round One.)
This time, the winners were the District of Columbia (D.C.), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. Thirty-five states, plus D.C., originally applied in this round, a number that was whittled down to just 19 finalists.
Notably absent from the list were Colorado and Louisiana, which had high hopes of winning grants after aggressively changing elements of state education policy, and California, which had looked to the prospect of up to $700 million in new federal aid amid a continued fiscal crisis.
So what makes a winner? Out of a possible 500 points, Massachusetts earned the top score with 471.0, and Ohio the lowest with 440.8.
“These states show what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children,” declared Duncan. “Every state that applied showed a tremendous amount of leadership and a bold commitment to education reform. The creativity and innovation in each of these applications is breathtaking,” he continued. “We set a high bar and these states met the challenge.”
So what exactly was the challenge? To qualify for the RTTT money, states had to commit to closing historic achievement gaps and to getting more students into college. Sounds good, right? But they had to do it in more than 30 specific ways dictated by President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan. Here’s a sample:
* Turning around their lowest-achieving schools
* Adopting common standards
* Revamping their data systems
* Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on measuring student growth (using standardized test scores)
* Supporting charter schools
* Connecting teacher and principal salaries to student performance (i.e. merit pay)
While education experts applaud the idea of lending support to the quest for excellent schools, not everyone agrees with the methods that the Department of Education have endorsed. Many believe that states desperate for money pushed ahead quickly and changed their rules without much conviction, just to give themselves a better chance.
Others fear that the Race to the Top is trying to design a one-size-fits-all solution to education reform, exacerbating the problems that began with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.
And for a competitive grant program, funded through the federal stimulus package, there is a remarkable cloud of secrecy surrounding this program. Who are the judges? How exactly did they come up with these numbers?
Finally, the United States Constitution gives the ultimate authority to create and administer education to the states. The Race to the Top gives the federal government a much greater say over education reform in the states that win. Is this a good thing?
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