Surprise winners, losers in RTTT 2

Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. will share $4.35 billion as round-two winners in Race to the Top.  Louisiana and Colorado, strong reform states, finished out of the money.

Rewarding Hawaii and Maryland, but not Louisiana and Colorado, is a “disastrous outcome,” writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

Support for competitive programs, even among reformers, is apt to plummet as it becomes clear that the vagaries of peer reviewers and the prowess of grant writers are what drive results in such competitions, not true policy change, political courage, leadership or public commitment to reform.

Funding Ohio, Hawaii and New York, but not Louisiana and Colorado, is ludicrous, writes Rick Hess. He’s grading RTTT on a curve.

The Education Department has leveraged reform with “an extraordinary bout of federal edu-spending,” all borrowed money, Hess writes. It took more than $120 billion in edu-stimulus and edu-jobs legislation to get $4.35 billion for RTTT.

So, even for those who ardently support Duncan’s efforts, it’s worth keeping in mind how aggressively we’re raiding our kids’ college funds in order to fund his agenda. After all, any superintendent can have an outsized impact if he spends wheelbarrows of borrowed cash that his successors will have to repay.

There’s also an “opportunity cost” to RTT.

In the midst of a fiscal crunch which calls for smart budget-cutting and careful rethinking, RTT has encouraged state leaders and reformers to focus on dreaming up new ways to spend. Chasing new dollars has allowed state chiefs and legislatures to ignore less pleasant questions and to plug in hoped-for federal funds when baking the state schools budget. This has all served to sap time and attention from efforts to identify efficiencies, tackle problems with pensions and benefits, or help districts identify cost-savings and then muster the will to pursue them.

Hawaii, but not Colorado? And what about Illinois?

Did Colorado lose because the teachers’ unions didn’t buy in?

Race to the Top has ended with a whimper, says Jeanne Allen of Center for Education Reform, who disses Maryland and Hawaii, but praises D.C. and Florida.  Changes in state laws “will have little to no impact as long as teacher contracts control the classroom and quality school choices are limited or nonexistent.”

Update: Hechinger Report analyzes the buzzwords in winners’ and losers’ applications: “Data-driven” “professional development” beat out “early education.”

On Ed Next, Checker Finn gives Duncan a B for initiating Race to the Top and sticking with it.

With a relatively small (by federal standards) amount of money, he has catalyzed a large amount of worthwhile education-reform activity in a great many places. And the directions in which he has bribed the system to move are important directions to move in. This wouldn’t have happened without the program’s competition-style design, with states vying for (relatively) scarce money. (It helped, of course, that states and districts are desperate for money!)

For the distribution of winners and losers, Finn awards a C.

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