NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States Hit Turbulence in School Overhauls

January 3, 2012

Race to the Top, President Barack Obama's signature education initiative, offered $4.3 billion to states that promised to transform their education systems.  Competition for the grants prompted dozens of states to change laws governing teacher evaluations, adopt new academic standards, alter their approach to fixing low-performing schools and support the growth of charter schools.  Eleven states and the District of Columbia won the competition and then submitted ambitious overhaul agendas with timelines for completion.  But all the winners since have applied for, and received, permission from the U.S. Department of Education to alter their plans, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • Hawaii, which qualified for $75 million in funding, has committed blunders to the point that the U.S. Department of Education has warned that they might have their funding revoked if they cannot get back on track.
  • The challenge to link student performance to teacher evaluations has held up some states (Delaware, Rhode Island, Georgia, Maryland) as they seek a solution that is agreeable with each of their respective public-sector teacher unions.
  • New York has been delayed because it has been taken to court by its teacher union over its proposed evaluation system.

A number of factors and obstacles to reform have caused delays in all 12 funds-winning jurisdictions, yet the blame only adds to the criticism of the Race to the Top program as a whole.  Congressional Republicans have condemned the program, stating flatly that the initiative only awards those reforms that are approved by the president.  This partisan divide may also have contributed to state delays.

Regardless, many advocates and detractors of the program alike simply want those states that won funding to be held accountable to their promises.  Chiefs for Change, a group of 10 state superintendents who advocate for education overhauls, have emphasized in a letter to the Department of Education that these winners must live up to their guarantees and that no further delays should be granted.  Their argument emphasizes that additional slack encourages their behavior -- specifically, that they made overly optimistic promises in order to win funding only to default later.

Source: Stephanie Banchero, "States Hit Turbulence in School Overhauls," Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2011.

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