Monday, August 29, 2011

Brill Book: Race to Top Scores Sparked 'Near-Panic' at Ed. Dept.

Here's Edweek, highlighting Brill's insights into what really happened behind the scenes in the Race to the Top competition:

Louisiana and Colorado take heart: Senior staff members at the U.S. Department of Education really wanted you to win the Race to the Top. So much, that when the round-two scores came in, and your states were inexplicably scored out of the winners' circle, the staff was in a "near-panic," while Education Secretary Arne Duncan was "surprised and upset."

"There are problems. ... Big problems," then-Race to the Top Director Joanne Weiss told Duncan when the scores came in, writes journalist Steven Brill (paraphrasing Weiss' comments) in his new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools.

The Education Department staff chewed over whether Duncan should handpick the winners, choosing out of order and probably skipping Hawaii, whose high score was called "bizarre" by two senior staff members, and maybe New York, whose second-place finish was a "shocker." (That option was quickly nixed.) Staff members debated whether to cut the grants down to just three years, versus four, so they could fund more proposals. They also debated trimming funding drastically for each state, by as much as 40 percent, so the awards could reach as far down as Louisiana and Colorado (which ranked 13th and 17th, respectively).

As we know, Duncan decided to stick with the top 10 scorers as determined by the outside peer reviewers, leaving ed-reform darlings Louisiana and Colorado behind.

The book by Brill, who is best known in education circles for exposing New York City's "rubber rooms," is not a Race to the Top exposé, but is part history lesson, part character study, part political gossip column, and part policy analysis. It traces the standards-and-accountability movement back to the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, delves into the evolving characters of ed-policy superstars like former Obama and Duncan adviser Jon Schnur, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp, and ex-New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. It brings the reader into the private discussions of Education Department senior staffers as Race to the Top is conceived, developed, and implemented. It traces the evolution of the group Democrats for Education Reform. And, throughout the book, Brill dives into the issue of improving teacher quality, not just by reviewing the progress of programs like TFA, but by examining the systems, policies (teacher merit pay being a key one!), and political figures that he believes need to be in place to tackle such a vexing subject.


Brill Book: Race to Top Scores Sparked 'Near-Panic' at Ed. Dept.

Michele McNeil| 13 Comments | 4 Recommendations

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