As Race to the Top becomes reality, doubts emerge

The decision of Georgia’s Jones County to forgo Race to the Top funds sparked discussion across the country. As the Jones

Arne Duncan believes that Race to the Top will lead to higher student achievement but some districts think the costs are too high.

Arne Duncan believes that Race to the Top will lead to higher student achievement but some districts think the costs are too high.

County superintendent told the AJC, the sticking point was the mandate that local partnering districts establish performance pay plans.

“My philosophy has always been that from the front door to the back door, from the secretary to the lunchroom worker, [everyone] is responsible for the student achievement of every child,” Jones County School Superintendent Bill Mathews told the AJC. “We set our goals and if we meet our goals, we all celebrate.”

The school system had already signed onto the state’s Race to the Top application when Mathews assumed the superintendent’s job. He expressed reservations about the implications of the grant and his school board concurred. “If other people can make it work, I’m really happy for them,” he said.

Jones County is not the only place in the country having second thoughts about its commitment to Race to the Top.

According to Education Week:

In Ohio, 50 of the initial 538 districts and schools that were part of the state’s Race to the Top application have dropped out, foregoing their local share of the state’s $400 million award.

In some cases, the local entities cited concerns about the time and work involved, said Michael Sawyers, the state’s assistant superintendent of education. In other cases, they couldn’t muster the necessary agreement between the school board, union, and top school administrators over how to count student academic growth in teacher evaluation, as is required in Ohio’s plan. Local collective bargaining agreements, Mr. Sawyers noted, complicated the work in some communities.

Some Ohio schools opted out simply because they were about to close their doors permanently, Mr. Sawyers added, and so taking part in Race to the Top for a few months made no sense to them. Many of Ohio’s local participants were approved conditionally, meaning they’ll need to make modifications in order to continue taking part in years two through four of the program, said Julie Daubenmire, a spokeswoman for the state department of education.

Despite the drop-outs, Mr. Sawyers described state officials as “ecstatic” about the degree of local buy-in, given the challenges involved.

In Florida, which won a $700 million Race to the Top award, 65 of the state’s 67 traditional school districts had initially agreed to take part in the state’s plan, and 62 have committed to continue, said Tom Butler, a spokesman for the state’s department of education, in an e-mail. The state’s winning application, among other features, includes a new model of evaluating and paying teachers, and gives local school systems some leeway in crafting those schemes.

Three districts—in Dixie, Hamilton, and Suwannee counties—have opted out. As is the case in Ohio, a number of Florida school systems received conditional approval from the state, Mr. Butler explained, meaning they will be asked to fix aspects of them.

In Massachusetts, 276 school districts originally had signed on to the state’s winning, $250 million proposal, but 19 have dropped out, leaving 257.

On the one hand, among the school systems that asked out of the state’s plan, concerns about the costs of implementing it were the “dominant calculus,” said Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of education. Many of those participants, he noted, were slated to receive small amounts of federal money—in some cases $20,000 or $80,000—and some would have received nothing.

25 comments Add your comment

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 2nd, 2010
11:04 pm

Under “Race to the Top,” might a public school system establish: A student-promotion system based upon student attainment of relevant academic and attitudinal standards? A bonus system which would reward students for their satisfactory completion of a national standards-based HS curriculum? And another bonus system which would reward teachers, other school staff, and responsible school system personnel based upon the quality and quantity of students’ academic and civic achievements?


December 2nd, 2010
11:09 pm

Frankly, for the little bit of money we’re slated to receive once you divide everything by 4 years, what good can this money do? How much is going to come to the classroom? If we want to improve student achievement, the money has to affect the students. How much will be spent to increase the already bloated central office? DeKalb has, for as long as I have been working there, funded all AP tests for students in those classes. Now, we’re passing that bill back on to the students. There have been true successes with that program, but if students can’t afford the $87 per test, why bother with the class? I’d like to see DCSS use money for that purpose. I won’t say our evaluation system is perfect, but I can’t believe anyone truly believes hiring more bureaucrats (which is all this money will do) will improve any issues in DeKalb County.

Dr. John Trotter

December 3rd, 2010
12:15 am

Race To The Top: Another federal boondoggle. Gimmicks that do not work. But, politicians can act like they are doing something. The very simple MACE mantra: You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions.

Connie J

December 3rd, 2010
12:32 am

Education is not a Race, it is a right of every American child to have a great public education. When we make it a race there have to be winners and losers. Do we really want to make teachers compete? We have all seen what that did to APS!! I refuse to compete with childrens’ education.

Toto: exposing the minstrel

December 3rd, 2010
1:15 am

President Clinton proves that once you reach the top, the only way is down…..
Imagine there’s no prop a gan da…..

Toto: exposing the minstrel

December 3rd, 2010
1:16 am

Larry Major

December 3rd, 2010
5:11 am

“The district’s initiatives and priorities were identified before the advent of RT3 and they are not dependent upon RT3 funding” (GCPS web page on RT3).

This is how RT3 was supposed to work, but this simple concept has been bludgeoned beyond recognition.

The federal government awarded competitive grants to states that submitted what they considered the best plans, not pipe-dreams. There were no strings attached and the only thing states had to do was be honest about their individual plans. You may disagree with your local school district’s specific commitments and if you do, you need to take it up with your local officials because the rules didn’t change. Similarly, a state that disguised an unworkable idea as a plan was simply being dishonest. Neither of these situations is the fault of the grant process.

Actually, that school districts are dropping out is good news for those who didn’t. Since half the money goes directly to participating districts, it means more funding for those remaining. In this case, planning was everything.


December 3rd, 2010
7:12 am

Unbelievably, our county did not sign on. Since we have routinely for 40 years signed up for anything with more than $5 attached (later to drop it when the money is gone) I thought for sure some genius in the CO would sign us up.

The idea that only half the money has ANY HOPE of getting to a classroom is absurd. And, in fact,virtually NONE will get to the classroom (where, we have learned, every important thing a child learns is totally dependent on their teacher) as the local COs will absorb the money.

I am hopeful at the end of the first year of RTTT the Congress will demand an accounting of the expenditures, state by state and system by system, so they can see how much “expertise” from consultants has been paid for, and how much (little) per student has been spent on actual boots-on-the- ground instruction. My guess? Less than 5%. What a boondoggle!

Let’s hold Nathan Deal’s feet to the fire to demand the money be used for improving the achievement of students, not for improving someone’s “bottom line!” Is he FOR RTTT or AGAINST RTTT this week?


December 3rd, 2010
7:30 am

We all get to deal with the science test scores as a second indicator for AYP now due to the RTTT idiots. Thanks guys.

Ed Johnson

December 3rd, 2010
7:54 am

@Connie J, I see you.

Education is the one thing Obama could have got right, easily. Instead, he flubbed it with Duncan and Race to the Top. But then Obama’s hosting the first annual science fair contest – contest, mind you – at the Whitehouse give insight as to why we have Race to the Top. And Obama’s contention that “these contests are essential to our nation’s future” (or words to this effect) is absolutely astonishing. Not a science fair exposition, not a science fair collaboration, but a science fair contest that encourages yielding as few science winners as possible and as many science losers as possible. Sad, and deeply disappointing. I voted for Obama mainly because I sensed in him a Systems Thinker. I was wrong, horribly so. But now I know better and will act accordingly come 2012.


December 3rd, 2010
8:13 am

The dollar amount schools will receive breaks down to about $75 per child for each year. That won’t even pay for a science textbook.

What RttT will create is more paperwork…lots and lots of paperwork.

What if

December 3rd, 2010
8:48 am

Many astute observations; Connie J’s the most so. Pay very close attention to what’s happening to APS, and what is yet to happen to APS. Many kids’ and teachers’ lives ruined because of the pressures of having to raise pass rates (NOT SCORES) on useless tests — with no training and no resources. If BH did anything good, it’s now all gone and will take MANY years to recover. Making teachers compete against one another in what most folks (who have a clue what they’re talking about) agree must be a cooperative culture is destined to be disastrous, all so a very few rich but very astute – and heartless – folks can snitch a bit more of your tax money to offset their kids’ $20k/yr private school tuitions.
Trotter: bravo. Me: NOT SCORES. PASS RATES. If you had scores that actually reflected learning, they would go DOWN for most kids, as the only ones you can focus on in your situation are the 20th (or so) percentile kids who you can raise a bit to slip by the minimum competency test difficulty. Teacher&mom: Yes. The paperwork will cost FAR more than the tiny bit of funding from RT3. For local school systems there will most likely be a net loss. Gwinnett may well be the 800 lb. gorilla that can use the paltry $ they way they need to and not get wagged by the federal and state tails.

[...] Here’s a concept: [...]

An American Patriot

December 3rd, 2010
9:29 am

“Race To The Top Of What”?…….the doo doo pile…..c’mon folks, our public education system is sinking fast and our federal deficit is increasing fast due to programs such as this. The Federal Government does not need to be in charge of this very important facet of our lives…..they screw up everything they control. It’s just another boondoggle and will have no effect whatsoever on our children’s education. Wake up…..rise up….”States Rights” anyone?

David Sims

December 3rd, 2010
10:36 am

It is good to compete. It is bad to cheat. Test scores can give important feedback to teachers about where students need to improve. If students cheat on their tests, it denies the teacher this information.

Bonuses might give teachers an incentive to teach harder, or, if not that, then they might encourage inferior teachers to find a different line of work. But competitive financial rewards sometimes tempt the competitors to cheat (e.g., by altering student test sheets), and so the penalty for cheating must be high enough to deter it.

@American Patriot. I think that it’s time to give the Declaration of Independence more emphasis in public schools, just so little Johnny grows up with the knowledge that governments serve at the pleasure of the governed, that whereas government may be one way in which the people exert their powers, it isn’t necessarily the only way that they might do so. That attitude is the American attitude, and it has been bled out of the population incrementally over the past hundred years. Put it back into this generation of kids, and in 20 years maybe we’ll have a revolution. Of course, they’ll need to be organized as well as determined.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 3rd, 2010
11:34 am

We have a system of perverse incentives in some of our public schools? Students are not rewarded for acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes they’ll need as responsible citizens. Rather, they are rewarded for being compliant or for threatening the intervention of vociferous, enabling “parents.” Teachers are not rewarded for helping students learn. These professionals are rewarded for posting passing grades for a suitably large percentage of their students as well as for completing and submitting required forms. Principals are not rewarded for insuring that their students acquire needed knowledge, skills and attitudes through the instruction of their teachers. Principals are rewarded for posting acceptable scores on tests whose validity and administrations are suspect. System-level administrators are not rewarded for insuring that students learn. Rather, these administrators are rewarded for completing state- and federal-required paperwork to insure that the monies continue to flow. And, lastly, local and state politicians are not rewarded for students’ learning. Pols are rewarded for meeting the demands of various special interest groups none of whom represents the interests of the poor children and their parents. Until retention of positions in all phases of this educracy is made contingent upon student learning, the prospects for students in many public schools, particularly those serving lower-SES kids, are grim.

Retired Educator

December 3rd, 2010
12:41 pm

When you have races like RTTT, people will cheat. That’s the problem with CRCT. Additionally, politicians like this kind of thing because they are able to “ease” monies meant for one thing into other things…including into their own pockets.

OBama Obomba

December 3rd, 2010
1:58 pm

I believe the phrase “white flight” entered the lexicon to describe those fleeing the migration of blacks into what were previously highly segregated neighborhoods and such, starting in the 70’s. It wasn’t a nice term, or activity, then and still isn’t but I think this silly initiative is going to see it becoming the norm in public education. If a teacher’s rating and income is going to be based solely on the graduation and/or progression rate of the students in a classroom or school, what possible incentive is there for 1) a new teacher requesting a position in a low-performing school and/or 2) a teacher currently dedicated to working in one of these low-performing schools staying there? There is none. Worse, there’s incentive to avoiding a position in a low-performing school and for getting out of teaching in one if you’re currently dedicated to doing so… money. And, like it or not, those poor-performing schools are, for the most part, full of students who are other than white. This is a bad, bad program that is going to affect those needing extra help in the worst of ways. Those new teachers who had decided for themselves to work with those needing the most help will think twice about it for a terrible reason. The best teachers are going to flee to a school where their success rate is more likely to be positive… they have to. Shame on those who dreamed up this debacle of a plan and shame on those who are participating it.


December 3rd, 2010
2:31 pm

Regarding the comment from “Me:” “We all get to deal with the science test scores as a second indicator for AYP now due to the RTTT idiots. Thanks guys.”

Schools having to value science education is positive. In many schools struggling to make AYP, science is only allowed to be taught through reading and writing time, not as its own subject. That means it gets shortchanged and kids who might get excited about learning because of an experiment or project in science are denied that experience.


December 3rd, 2010
3:06 pm

Valuing science is great! Having to redo everything to make cut scores in yet another area and retool schedules etc etc basically overnight to deal with already limited time is asinine for a few greedy districts to snag a tiny bit of federal money.

This isn’t about valuing learning in any shape of form. It is about cramming more mediocre test prep into an even shorter time frame. Science was doing much better before all this testing malarkey forced it out. what gets forced out now Ms Fericta?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brett Dickerson, Maureen Downey. Maureen Downey said: As Race to the Top becomes reality, doubts emerge [...]


December 4th, 2010
1:30 am

The problem with science being a second indicator is that it is not written on the same level as the reading test for the CRCT. It is certain that this indicator will pose significant problems in schools where students lack the essential skills to read indepth.


December 4th, 2010
10:21 am

Excellent and empowering read for the beleagured Georgia educator. This article decimates the argument for data driven instruction:


December 4th, 2010
10:21 am


December 6th, 2010
9:33 am

Me – That’s a good question, I wonder what will be forced out. And I hope that science doesn’t become reading passages and then answering multiple choice questions. I guess my point of view is that something is better than nothing!