How Race to the Top is recasting education reform in America
States are submitting their applications for Round 2 of the Obama administration's $4.3 billion Race to the Top program. States are undertaking major education reform to qualify.
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This time around, the Education department has promised to award more states (around 15). But some states have already decided it’s not worth it to apply. Nine states that applied the first time – Minnesota, Virginia, Kansas, West Virginia, Indiana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Oregon, and Idaho – are sitting on the sidelines for Round 2. [Editor's note: The original list of states in this paragraph contained one too many states. Oklahoma is taking part in the second round of applications.]Skip to next paragraph
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Minnesota and Indiana went through contentious battles with unions and ultimately failed to get the support they felt they needed to be competitive. Several other states worried about giving up local control. And in Virginia, Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) called the program “overly prescriptive” and said that the state’s standards were more rigorous than the national standards he would need to agree to adopt to make Virginia a contender.
That last reason has been a major point of contention for Massachusetts, as well. The state was docked 15 points in their Round 1 application for not agreeing to sign onto the Common Core standards (which will be launched Wednesday). Massachusetts officials say their current state standards – arguably the toughest in the country – are far more rigorous.
“It’s a serious concern,” says Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There’s about six weeks between the release of the standards and the need to commit to them in the Race to the Top application, which is a perilously short period for any reasoned reflection… The timetable here is grossly unreasonable.”
Big promises, but realistic?
Mr. Whitehurst also says some states may make more big promises this time: In the first round, states that offered realistic assessments seemed to be punished, he says, while those with ambitious goals – even if unrealistic – were rewarded.
Many of the new laws address teacher evaluations and link them to student test scores, says Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy. “It’s a very basic change. It goes to whether teachers are retained, and may go to how they’re paid,” he says.
In theory, Mr. Jennings adds, such evaluations could help. But he worries that the changes are being pushed through before there are good enough tests to judge a teacher’s impact.
“What they’re doing is pushing so hard – and not investing the money in changing the tests – that they may discredit the reform,” he says.
- Race to the Top: Do California, Florida have a chance?
- Race to the Top winners: How did Delaware and Tennessee succeed?