State on no one’s Race to the Top short list


Word in the education blogosphere is that the Department of Education will announce the finalists for Race to the Top competition on Thursday, and none of the handicappers – surprise! – has listed California among them.

The finalists –likely a dozen or fewer states – will be invited to make their pitch in person in Washington on March 15, with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announcing the winners of the first round in April.

The losers – the large majority of the 40 states and District of Columbia that applied for a piece of the $4.35 billion prize – will each get an eight-to-10 page critique of their applications and an invitation to apply for the second round for whatever money is left over.

That could be as much as $2 billion, because the only big state that appears to have a good shot in the first round is Florida. Education Week reporters Lesli Maxwell and Michele McNeil and Thomas Carroll of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal all it put high in their Race to the Top brackets. Florida has a model K-20 student data base and a strong charter law. They also named Louisiana and Tennessee as top picks. Louisiana, Carroll pointed out, has a value-added method  of tracking student performance and  41 districts are experimenting with paying teachers for performance – a plus in the Race to the Top rating system.

Massachusetts, with its high state standards, top test scores on the nation’s report card or NAEP and clear plans to overhaul its bad schools was high on the Ed Week’s list.

It’s all speculation, because the evaluation process has been secret, which in itself has drawn criticism. The Education Department has not revealed the identities of the 49 peer reviewers, each of whom rated five states’ applications; in fact, they had to pledge not to go to the press to reveal who they are or the ratings, on a 500-point scale, that they gave.

Duncan has promised to make all of the applications and related materials public after the winners are announced. But he has final say over which states are chosen.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute says that Duncan must establish credibility that the process wasn’t politicized or tainted. Among the questions that Hess says Duncan should answer:

  • What criteria were used to select reviewers?
  • What kinds of instructions were given to reviewers?
  • How much weight are the reviewers supposed to accord to the boldness of promises the states make versus the credibility of those promises?
  • What will constitute states failing to deliver what they promised? What are the consequences?
  • How committed is Secretary Duncan to abiding by the reviewer recommendations?

California officialdom has already said the state would go for the second round, if it comes up short. The biggest lesson it could learn from losing (assuming the bettors are right): Forget the big tent effort to coax as many districts and union locals to be partners with vague assurances they didn’t have anything to worry about. Be bolder and work with fewer districts, starting with the 30 new schools of choice in Los Angeles Unified,  that are doing something interesting.


  1. CA will be lucky if it can dodge the RTTT bullet. The available dollars are too few to make any significant difference in the devastation the governor, Republicans, and Grover Norquist have inflcited upon CA’s public services and public schools. Soon CA will be the radical libertarian promised land they’ve alsways pined for. No government services. Kind of like Haiti.

    The basketball player as Sec of Education got his competition oriented, market based reforms dumped on Chicago schools. According to the U of Chicago they were giant flops. Student achievement went down. The competition/market based reforms will do for the schools just what they did for the economy. Duck.

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  2. Actually, it was an organization made up of Chicago’s most powerful business leaders that issued the report debunking the claims of success about Duncan’s market-based privatization experiments with Chicago’s schools. These were the business leaders who had advocated just the “reform” Duncan imposed, but who now view them as a mistake — much the way former Bush I education official Diane Ravitch views the market-based reforms that she previously championed. Here’s the info about the Chicago findings.

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