Research & Commentary: Race to the Top, Year One

Published January 24, 2012

One-quarter of the states receiving part of the $4 billion in federal Race to the Top grants are in danger of losing those grants by failing to keep promises made to win them, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan while announcing the program’s first-year evaluations in January 2012.

Another six of the 12 states that received grants were lagging behind on promised actions for using the money in reforming education. The department considered only three states “on track,” and every one of the 12 states was behind by their own measures.

Duncan still praised the program for creating education reforms he says would not otherwise have occurred, such as pushing through state legislatures systems for tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. Other Race to the Top boosters credit the program with increasing collaboration among states, school districts, and unions.

Reform advocates, however, point to these reports as part of a long trail of evidence demonstrating the federal government’s ineffectiveness at micromanaging education. The reluctance and political inability of school districts to implement RTT programs demonstrates states and schools have to be held accountable to students and local taxpayers, they say, not slapped with layers of red tape and piles of paperwork in exchange for relatively small amounts of federal funding after it has trickled through multiple bureaucracies.

A better system would not force administration-favored policies but instead would free states and districts to innovate and focus on students rather than trendy programs, reformers say.

The following documents offer more information about the one-year evaluations of Race to the Top grants.


Big Race to Top Problems in Hawaii, Florida, N.Y., Says Ed. Dept.
Nearly all the states that received federal Race to the Top grants are already lagging behind on the plans they submitted during their efforts to win part of the $4 billion in grants, reports Education Week. The U.S. Department of Education issued warnings to Hawaii, Florida, and New York for significant lack of progress on promises made more than a year ago. Most winners are struggling to implement new teacher evaluation systems based at least partly on student test scores. Many also are having difficulty getting local schools districts to implement their plans.

States Face Delays in Implementing Race to the Top
State reports detailing the progress of all 12 winners in the first year of implementation found only three are relatively on schedule with their plans, reports the Wall Street Journal. Another six states are “headed in the right direction” but face delays, and three—New York, Florida, and Hawaii—have significant problems following through.

D.C. Behind Schedule in Meeting Race to the Top Promises
Federal officials found Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio largely delivered what they promised during the first year of the four-year Race to the Top program, while Hawaii, New York, and Florida ran into significant hurdles that threatened their grants, reports the Washington Post. Maryland, which received $250 million, had trouble designing a teacher evaluation system acceptable to state officials and unions, delaying implementation of its promised plans.

State Sets Race to the Top Pace
When Ohio was awarded its $400 million Race to the Top grant, 538 districts and charter schools agreed to participate in the initiatives and share the award, the Columbus Dispatch notes. Sixty-one have dropped out. Most of the dropouts are charter schools and small districts, which were to receive relatively small shares. After realizing the amount of work required, many districts decided they wouldn’t get enough money from the grant to finance planned initiatives.

U.S. Faults State’s Progress on Race to the Top Goals
One year after receiving a Race to the Top federal grant, New York state has failed to implement two main promises it made to receive the $700 million grant: a database to track student records across school districts and teacher and principal evaluations tied to student test scores, reports the New York Times. Tracking how the state has spent the money so far has been a complex and “formidable task,” the U.S. Department of Education complained.

Race to the Top Results Demonstrate Federal Ineffectiveness
Anyone who read the states’ Race to the Top applications would have predicted their inability to follow through on their promises, writes Joy Pullmann in the Weekly Standard. States promised “wildly optimistic” outcomes in five years for money that required mounds of paperwork and represented only small percentages of their annual education budgets, she notes.

Race to the Top Performance Reports
Collected here are the first-year performance reports from the 12 states that have won the largest Race to the Top federal grants.


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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].