Amid the local applause over Race to the Top now that Georgia entered the winner’s circle, I thought I would serve up a contrary view of the federal grant program.
From Neal P. McCluskey, associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute:
So the much ballyhooed Race to the Top program – $4.35 billion out of nearly $110 billion in federal education stimulus and bailouts – is over, with today’s announcement of ten round-two winners. Who knows for sure how the winners were ultimately determined – point allocation was highly subjective – but it’s hard to be impressed by the list: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.
New York? Recent revelations about dumbed-down Regents exams hardly make it seem like a paragon of honest reform. Hawaii? How did last years’ school-free Fridays help them stack up so high? Maryland? Fostering charter schools was supposed to be important, but it has one of the most constricting charter laws in the nation. And Massachusetts? Well, it’s easy to see how it won – it just dropped its own, often-considered nation-leading curriculum standards to adopt national standards demanded by Race to the Top.
In the end, though, how states were chosen really doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because the race was based mainly on who could make the biggest, fastest promises of reform, not who was actually, meaningfully reforming things. So, at the very least, we should all hold our applause for both the winners and the race for several years, because promises are easy – real change is tough.
And here is the statement from Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform:
Race to the Top’ ended today not with a bang but with a whimper, with a majority of competitors winning—10 of the 19—and many, it appears, for political reasons, as these states offer little or nothing to fundamentally improve schools and learning for all children.
While the District of Columbia and Florida deserve to be rewarded for their strong and often controversial commitment to education reform, it does not appear that they “won” the race for the same reasons most reformers regard them highly. School choice and charter school programs did not matter much in ‘Race to the Top’ scoring, but it’s likely that teacher contract reform counted for something in the case of DC. However, while Florida leads the pack in the use of data for accountability, the governor’s recent veto of a teacher tenure reform bill raises questions about this ‘Race to the Top’ award and the Administration’s real views on teacher contract reform.
Awarding money to states like Maryland and Hawaii, which have done little to provide enhanced opportunities to children to close the achievement gap, diminishes the impact of this competition.
Throughout the process, states got much credit for making changes to laws that, in most cases, will have little to no impact as long as teacher contracts control the classroom and quality school choices are limited or nonexistent. While there is no question that ‘Race to the Top’ has been the Administration’s positive bully pulpit on education, the dramatic need for laws to change remains largely undone. Because state legislators have neglected their responsibility to put children’s interest ahead of adults, we hope that this fall’s elections, which have the potential to turn over the majority of statehouses, will usher in bold and urgent reform regardless of the impact of federal policy measures.