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Delaware, Tennessee on hot seats

I have not been a fan of the federal Race to the Top school innovation program. I have predicted that politics and inertia will dissipate its impact, as often happens with federal money given to schools. But I do love the fact that the first grants, as revealed by my colleague Nick Anderson, are going to just two states, Delaware and Tennessee. This will make it much easier to focus on the results.

If the Obama administration had dumped the dough on a dozen or more states, we all would have soon lost interest. Progress reports would have tried to average out achievement gains for the whole group. The results would look bland and vague. It would be difficult to determine whom to praise and whom to blame.

But now we just have two states, and interesting ones at that. Both have had innovative educational leaders, but haven't gotten very far in raising achievement. Tennessee in particular carried out the most useful experiment ever in gauging the benefits of lowering class size, and discovered that you needed to get to 17 students per class or less to make much of a difference. Delaware is an average state in family income and other measures that influence school success. Tennessee is below average.

So we can all watch them now, very carefully. The state leaders responsible for spending the Race to the Top money effectively in those two states are going to be losing a lot of sleep the next few years. But the rest of us may learn something.

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By Jay Mathews  | March 29, 2010; 3:03 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Del. and Tenn. on hot seats, Race to the Top, federal money often wasted, pressure on those two states  
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Delaware's promises are laughable. For example, it says it is going to get to 50 percent proficient on all NAEP tests by 2015 and close the black-white gap by half. Right now on 8th grade reading, DE white students are 31 percent proficient and black students are 16 percent proficient. So to meet it's promise, it must increase white proficiency by 14 percentage points and black proficiency by 26 points. Both promises are ludicrous, given that the state's 8th grade NAEP reading scores have gone NOWHERE for the past six years. But the promise to increase black proficiency by 26 points in 6 years should -- in a saner world -- invite howls of derision. Instead, they get a nice cut of taxpayer cash. This program should be called the Race to the Toilet.

Posted by: dz159 | March 30, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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