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Posted at 5:10 PM ET, 03/ 4/2010

Race to the Top finalists and the 'ick' factor

By Valerie Strauss

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top education brand has now, formally, officially, irrevocably, been launched. Today we learned who the first 16 finalists are in the $4.35 billion fund competition.

The competitors -- 16 states and the District of Columbia -- now get a chance to send representatives to woo administration officials with their school reform plans, all tailored to the particular likes of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Ick.

The whole notion of this administration making its education initiative a kind of race where states compete for funds is counter to the desired goal of providing equal resources to children in all public schools.

Then there’s the problem noted by many commentators, including education historian Diane Ravitch, that the initiative is requiring states who want to be funded to adopt practices that claim to be “research based” but, in fact, haven’t been shown to be broadly successful at all.


Duncan is promoting charter schools and the privatization of schools, as well as a scheme to evaluate teachers by the results of standardized tests taken by students. None of the above have been shown to ensure success, but the government will spend billions forcing states to do them anyway.

For the record, the finalists for the first phase are:

* Colorado
* Delaware
* District of Columbia
* Florida
* Georgia
* Illinois
* Kentucky
* Louisiana
* Massachusetts
* New York
* North Carolina
* Ohio
* Pennsylvania
* Rhode Island
* South Carolina
* Tennessee

California competed but lost, and Jack O'Connell, superintendent of public instruction, explained why the whole enterprise is empty.

"We put forth a solid, thoughtful application," he said. "The systemic reforms we made we made because they're the right educational strategies. It was an unprecedented opportunity to actually fund the reforms."

Federal officials want losing states to reapply, but O'Connell isn't so sure: "We had our best people working on it. Our time may be better spent helping school districts here in California."

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, lots of people who supported President Obama and had hoped he would make a clean break with No Child Left Behind and its failed emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing regime are sorely disappointed, even angry. Race to the Top program is certainly no important break from NCLB, and some believe it is worse. With the failing political fortunes of the administration, any effort to boldly reauthorize No Child Left Behind isn’t happening anytime soon.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, in this post , called Race to the Top “a doomed bribery scheme.”

He’s right. Ick.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 4, 2010; 5:10 PM ET
Categories:  Elementary School, Race to the Top  | Tags:  Race to the Top  
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Comments

I noticed that except for Colorado, none of the states mentioned are West of the Mississippi. Any special reason for that?

Posted by: srdem | March 4, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

This idea is another attempt to solve the ills of education by throwing federal dollars. Since the days of LBJ the federal and states have spent trillions--all for naught. The schools are a microcosm of the society as a whole.The society is sick and so are the schools.

Posted by: tsapp77 | March 4, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Very,very icky, and very,very sad. There is no heart in this 'Race to the Top'- just muscle and speed.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 4, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Is there actually any correlation between spending and school quality?

DC schools spend the absolute most per pupil, and are abysmal. Iowa schools spend the least in the nation per pupil, and are very good.

Seems like money isn't the answer. I suspect that getting parents to care about their kids' education is the real answer.

Posted by: targusowlkiln | March 4, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Ick ick ick.

Pardon me while I retch.

What about the march? can we at least march about this, or do we just lay down and die.

Posted by: efavorite | March 4, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I hope someone follows the money trail. I have a very strong suspicion that what is happening now will make the Reading First fraud look like a cookie jar raid.

Are certain people being paid to help states with the application process? If so, who? How much are they getting? What organizations do they belong to? As a taxpayer I want to know the answers to these questions.

Start with Michelle Rhee.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 4, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Valerie - please do a little investigation and tell us about the efforts that Willingham and Ravitch and other academic experts are making to GET THROUGH to the president before he goes down this crash course.

Posted by: efavorite | March 4, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Bears repeating from an eduwonk.com commentator:

SReckhow Says:
March 4th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
Two things about this list jump out at me:
- 10 of the 15 states that received funding from Gates to hire consultants for the RTT application are among the finalists. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2009/08/gates_gives_15_states_an_edge.html
- Meanwhile, several of the states that tried to meet RTT criteria with new legislation are not finalists such as Michigan, California, and Iowa. It looks like Colorado was the only RTT finalist that passed new legislation in response to RTT but did not receive Gates funds. (though I’m not sure if my list of states that passed RTT-related legislation is complete)

Posted by: edlharris | March 4, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Just to be clear--

If I was a student in a low-performing, non-innovative school environment (i.e. a person that is most in need of federal education intervention), There is NO CHANCE that RTT could do anything for me.

Fantastic plan Mr. President!

Posted by: someguy100 | March 5, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Ok, so not to disagree, but what's a better idea. Also, do you think there is something that can be done in some of these other states. It seems to me they participated in the effort in good faith, and a lot of states didn't bother. So why not make a win out of this for the players.

Posted by: Nymous | March 5, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"So why not make a win out of this for the players."

Here are two reasons:
Because improved education shouldn't be a prize for players. It should be a service available to all american children

A win isn't possible, even for the players because the prize is rotten. The techniques and programs being funded have already been proven to be ineffective. Amazing, isn't it? The whole thing is a farce.

Posted by: efavorite | March 5, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

There are winners and losers when a grant is competitive. I think its refreshing that DOE appears to have eschewed political considerations (CA didn't make it) and stuck to their criteria.

Yes, a vaccine for educational malaise hasn't been invented, but the 4 pillars in the RTTT application are not exotic ideas at all: Tying teacher performance to student outcomes? Turning around perpetually failing schools? Using standardize measurements so states can't just lower the bar inorder to fake progress? Radical...

Posted by: ja14 | March 5, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

RttT is so typical of all plans brought forward by non-educators and/or by people who have been out of the classroom for way too long to be considered education "experts."

Most federally mandated reform plans, and the main reason they are unsuccessful, is because they tend to cubby-hole kids and schools. RttT is no different. We need to get away from the 19th century factory model of education...that is the problem. Society isn't an assembly-line and neither is teaching kids.

Ironically, flexibility is what drives the charter school movement. But Obama and "friends" are incapable of understanding that while they continue to tie the hands of public schools they are at the same time advocating for a reform where flexibilty is the key component.

The people making these decisions have already bought into the importance of "being educated." But, the majority of kids I teach (or at least the ones that cause all the problems) have not. The decision-makers have been successful...the parents of these kids were abandoned by the system, and in most cases, are having a tough time making ends meet. To most kids, the weekend is a long way away...much less think about earning a living when they are 30.

The reason many other cultures have public schools that, by all accounts, produce students that are more successful than U.S. students is because there is respect for the public schools at home and in society. Just read the comments on this site and others....people hate the public schools and teachers.

RttT doesn't address a needed change in attitude...Public schools don't need more condemnation or to turn the schools into mini-Super Bowls where success is defined by an arbitrary set of test scores that measure only the ability to memorize...where sselected subjects trump an all-around education.

I voted for Obama, although he wasn't my original choice, but it didn't take a PhD. to recognize pre-voting that his plan for the public schools was not one I could support. I wish Obama would have a Town Hall Meeting with real teachers...not leaders of the NEA/AFT or Principals...but one with those of us in the trenches.

Posted by: ilcn | March 5, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Race To The Bottom

The ten winning states are given money to develop completely on their own computer systems that basically do the same thing.

Apparently in the United States computers work differently in each different state and so the states can not use the same computer system. They have to develop on their own the computer system that will work in their state.

This is why the Federal government can not develop computer systems for public education and simply give these systems to the states free of charge.

This is also why each state in the nation has to develop their own "standardized" test to check if a student knows 2+2 equals 4.

It is surprising that the toilet paper manufacturers have not developed different toilet paper for each state in the United States.
........................
By the way the cost of Cash for Caulking is 6 billion while the cost of Race to the Bottom is 4 billion. Is it not great that the problem of public education can be solved so cheaply.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 5, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

ja14 "4 pillars in the RTTT application are not exotic ideas at all"

Correct - not exotic, not radical and already proven not to work.* So why are we trying these things again? why have states compete for this useless junk?

*
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/28/AR2009122802368.html

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/education-secretary-duncan/why-duncans-record-in-chicago.html

Posted by: efavorite | March 5, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

The key to these latest and greatest programs like "Race to the Top" is that because they are new, there is no accountability. After all, how can continuing lack of success be the fault of a new program? Then, by the time the snake oil has bloomed to the surface and it's clear that it's just another ineffective, overhyped fad that hopelessly oversimplifies the magnitude of the problem, its perpetrators are onto the next challenge that has - what else? - a simple solution.

Posted by: virtualchemist | March 5, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

"The whole notion of this administration making its education initiative a kind of race where states compete for funds is counter to the desired goal of providing equal resources to children in all public schools."

But the Dept of Ed isn't cutting funds to the rest of the schools. In fact, there's more money going to public schools then ever before. If we follow your premise that we should just fund all public schools equally, we will never reward innovation or improvements in schools. Under this model, schools get funding and some states that are adopting certain reporting, structures, and innovations get funding to continue this work.

I'm sure the California superintendent thinks they had a good proposal, but for him to disparage the whole process is disingenuous. I mean, he thought it was an okay model in which to send an application. He thought is was fine to ask for the money. Did Valarie Strauss find out WHY California didn't score as high as Tennessee? No. She just got the quote from the person who was rejected. Sounds like sour grapes. Looks like lazy reporting.

Posted by: thingsthatshine | March 5, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Illinois made the cut. How about that. Isn't that where Arne Duncan hails from....and that other guy in the white house.

Posted by: rjma1 | March 5, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

could someone please explain why a no state income tax state like florida is goint to get federal dollars for what they won't pay for themselves?

There are 2 correct choices.

either give each state a flat amount per student

or

kill the dept of education, and let each state pay for it's own education, K-12.
Those states that don't want to pay, can just have ignorant students. o, we're back to florida

Posted by: newagent99 | March 5, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Illinois: President Obama, Secretary Duncan

Delaware: Vice President Biden

Not to mention most of the winning schools were assisted by paid consultants from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation when it came time to write their applications.

For 4.35 billion dollars it should take more than political ties and a pretty application. Which states are using techniques that actually get results???

Posted by: alc0f7 | March 5, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Strauss,

Thanks for telling the truth about the "Race to the Bottom."

Posted by: jlp19 | March 5, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

The complaining coming from the traditional-ed crowd is telling.

First, they complain that NCLB has too much "carrot" and not enough "stick".

Now, Arne Duncan is offering lots of "Carrot" and they're calling it "Bribery".

I think the translation here should be "Give us money but don't expect us to do anything specific with it".

ANY non-profit could tell you that grants always come with strings.

Posted by: holzhaacker | March 5, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Strauss,

You and Bill Turque report on education as it really is. You are both awesome.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 5, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, ya gotta look on the bright side! Journalists are going to be kept busy for years tracking all the bogus bulls--t that states do with their money. It's going to be great fun.

Posted by: dz159 | March 5, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

When will Arne Duncan be held accountable for his mistakes in the Chicago Public Schools? Or is accountability for teachers only?

Posted by: jlp19 | March 6, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Linda/RetiredTeacher asked:
"Are certain people being paid to help states with the application process? If so, who? How much are they getting? What organizations do they belong to? As a taxpayer I want to know the answers to these questions."

Answer: Yes. Other states are getting help from the National Council for Teacher Quality's executive director, Kate Walsh. She's also a Maryland State Board of Education member. How's that for a conflict of interest?

Posted by: AnnapolisReader | March 6, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Linda/RetiredTeacher asked:
"Are certain people being paid to help states with the application process? If so, who? How much are they getting? What organizations do they belong to? As a taxpayer I want to know the answers to these questions."

Answer: Yes. Other states are getting help from the National Council for Teacher Quality's executive director, Kate Walsh. She's also a Maryland State Board of Education member. How's that for a conflict of interest?

Posted by: AnnapolisReader | March 6, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

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