Sacramento Discovers “Race to the Top” Was A Trick

When the US Department of Education announced that only two states – Tennessee and Delaware – had won funds in the “Race to the Top” championed by right-wing Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the reaction from a growing number of states was a sense that something wasn’t right with the program. As the New York Times explained last week, state skepticism about the program is growing:

“It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” [Colorado Governor Bill] Ritter said….

“There’s a serious conversation going on here about whether it makes sense to put all that time and effort in again to reapply,” said Rick Miller, who as deputy schools superintendent led California’s first-round Race to the Top effort. He has since left state government….

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fought hard to help win passage of several new education laws favored by Mr. Duncan, but the state received little or no credit for those victories in the scoring, said Kathy Gaither, the state’s undersecretary of education.

The reason states like California didn’t win is because they were never intended to win. The purpose of Race to the Top wasn’t to award money, but to force policy changes. Now that the policy changes have been approved, there’s no reason for Arne Duncan to want to get money to those states. He got what he wanted.

Adding insult to injury, the US Dept of Ed has capped future award amounts, so states are eligible for much less money than was originally promised. California was eligible for $1 billion in the first round, can now receive a maximum of $700 million.

What this all shows is that, as we’ve been saying here at Calitics, Race to the Top is nothing more than Arne Duncan’s apparently successful attempt to push states to adopt right-wing reforms that are unproven and still subject to intense debate among educators by pulling a dollar on a string in front of states facing big budget deficits and education cuts.

Instead of rushing federal aid as quickly as possible to the public schools in this state and country that are facing a serious crisis, laying off teachers and packing classrooms as an entire generation faces the irreparable loss of their education, Arne Duncan is using $4 billion of the funds as bait to push states to start gutting their public schools for good, adopting policies that will outlast the budget crisis.

The right response for California would be to repeal the policy changes made in January to enable the state to compete for Race to the Top money, and show Arne Duncan that we know better than to play cards with a stacked deck.

5 thoughts on “Sacramento Discovers “Race to the Top” Was A Trick”

  1. Governor Ritter said in an interview that Colorado had lost points because the state had been unable to persuade about 40 of its 178 districts to participate in the contest, a factor he said he might not be able to change.

    “People judging our application may not have appreciated that in the West there is a great deal of local control,” he said. “Many tiny school districts don’t like federal mandates. So even as I believe that school reform is important for our country, it’s also important that people in Washington understand that one size doesn’t fit all.”

    I think it’s really important to keep in mind that some of these rural districts have tremendously different circumstances than the urban inner-city schools that Duncan is thinking of, even if his solutions are right for those schools.

    In addition, because of their small populations, the amount of money involved for rural schools is miniscule by the time it trickles down to them. Had California won the RTTT grant, my daughter’s district would have received an extra $6k. Now, certainly we love having $6k fall from the sky and we have plenty of ways to use it – but it’s not enough to do the real stuff we want, like hiring a teacher or extending the minutes in school.

    If there’s positive progress in Tennessee and Delaware, that will be valuable data. But, even if there is, it seems unlikely that other states would see the same funding per capita as their demonstration case.

  2. “Right-wing”? Arne Duncan is an old Chicago friend of Barack Obama and a Democrat to boot. It is hard to imagine the two pushing for “right-wing reforms” but if you say so…

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