Friday, August 27, 2010

Rebutting RTTT critics

At a time when every true reformer should be celebrating – 10 more states winning $3.4 billion for schools in a competitive process that drove more genuine reform in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years combined – I'm extremely disappointed that some of my friends in the reform community are instead crapping on RTTT – and, in doing so, Randi and Diane doing handsprings because they're undermining chances for renewing RTTT, which is critical to maintaining the incredible reform momentum that's underway.  Is that really what they want?!  I'm sorry to publicly call out my friends, but they're so wrong and RTTT is too important…


Let's start with Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute, whose column below is entitled "A big flop on Race to the Top".  He writes:

today, the Department of Education shocks the known world by announcing that Louisiana and Colorado both came up short in Race to the Top, outdone by such reform stalwarts as Maryland (ha!) and Hawaii (guffaw!).

…This is a disastrous outcome for the Administration. 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. The lofty rhetoric of the Race to the Top has turned to farce.

And here's Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform:

'Race to the Top' Ends with a Whimper
Rewarding states that have done little diminishes the impact of the competition

WASHINGTON, DC - Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform, released the following statement upon today's announcement of 'Race to the Top' winners:

"'Race to the Top' ended today not with a bang but with a whimper, with a majority of competitors winning—10 of the 19—and many, it appears, for political reasons, as these states offer little or nothing to fundamentally improve schools and learning for all children.
"While the District of Columbia and Florida deserve to be rewarded for their strong and often controversial commitment to education reform, it does not appear that they "won" the race for the same reasons most reformers regard them highly. School choice and charter school programs did not matter much in 'Race to the Top' scoring, but it's likely that teacher contract reform counted for something in the case of DC. However, while Florida leads the pack in the use of data for accountability, the governor's recent veto of a teacher tenure reform bill raises questions about this 'Race to the Top' award and the Administration's real views on teacher contract reform.
"Awarding money to states like Maryland and Hawaii, which have done little to provide enhanced opportunities to children to close the achievement gap, diminishes the impact of this competition.
"Throughout the process, states got much credit for making changes to laws that, in most cases, will have little to no impact as long as teacher contracts control the classroom and quality school choices are limited or nonexistent. While there is no question that 'Race to the Top' has been the Administration's positive bully pulpit on education, the dramatic need for laws to change remains largely undone. Because state legislators have neglected their responsibility to put children's interest ahead of adults, we hope that this fall's elections, which have the potential to turn over the majority of statehouses, will usher in bold and urgent reform regardless of the impact of federal policy measures."

Petrilli and Allen, with whom I usually agree, couldn't be more wrong in this (very important) instance.  Yes, RTTT could have been even bolder and driven even more reform, and no, it's not a panacea.  Yes, the process by which winners was less than perfect.  Of course Colorado should have been one of the winners.  But as Voltaire once wisely said, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."  I am not being hyperbolic when I say that RTTT has driven more genuine reform in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years combined – as evidence, see the attached DFER memo on RTTT (also pasted at the end of this email).


A big flop on Race to the Top

Mike Petrilli

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