Sunday, September 04, 2011

Race to the Top: By the Numbers

Speaking of Class Warfare (, a meaningful part of the book does the best reporting yet on the Race to the Top program – and some of what Brill reports isn't pretty: incompetent judges, states that won that shouldn't have, states that should have won (like Colorado and Louisiana) that didn't, states that won by making promises that are unlikely to be kept, etc.  But one would be VERY wrong to conclude that RTTT was a failed program or shouldn't be renewed.  Yes, there were some hiccups in the scoring and a couple of deserving states didn't win, but overall my enthusiasm for RTTT hasn't changed a bit.


Below is what I wrote about the program a year ago in response to similar critiques then – here's an excerpt:

As I noted in my last email, we're in agreement that some states won that shouldn't have, and vice versa, etc.  But where we fundamentally differ is that "good isn't good enough."  We've been on a journey of 1,000 miles for 20 years and I'd say that in the first 18 years, we'd made 100 miles of progress and we've made another 100 miles over the past two years due to the Democratic party starting to tip on this issue (thanks to the leadership of President Obama, Sec. Duncan and the efforts of DFER and a handful of other great organizations).  Race to the Top was an absolutely critical ingredient to the progress in the past two years – let's call it 25 of the 100 miles.  I call that a smashing success that should be celebrated, but critics are trashing the entire program under the theory that had it been better designed and implemented, there could have been gains of 30 or 35 miles, and that 25 miles in the context of a 1,000-mile journey isn't enough.  Such criticism is TOTALLY misguided. 

I want to make the case very clearly that Race to the Top is a game changer… 

…Lastly, just ask any reformer who's been fighting in the trenches in cities and states around the country about the impact of RTTT: it was a total game-changer in MANY states.

Let me conclude with another analogy.  For many years, we reformers were a guerilla group, so totally outmanned and outspent that we had no choice but to engage in sporadic hit-and-run tactics.  But just in the past couple of years (I'd cite the DFER-organized event at the Democratic National Convention as a key tipping point – see links below), we now have enough power in many place to fight to a stalemate, so instead of looking like the Revolutionary War, this is beginning to look more like the trench warfare of WW I ( – a bloody war of attrition in which neither side is powerful enough to advance, but both sides are powerful enough to stop their opponents from advancing. 

So what broke the stalemate?  A key factor was the Allies developing tanks (  Race to the Top is our tank.  We deployed it, it totally changed the battlefields in many, many states, and we need to make sure that RTTT and similar competitive, reform-oriented initiatives are not only preserved, but expanded. 

Using this analogy, it's easy to see why the critics are so wrong when they say, "Tanks break down a lot (a chronic problem in WW I) and, by themselves, they can't win a war, so therefore they're lousy and let's abandon them."  The correct answer, of course, is that we need to improve them and deploy them more widely, but also recognize that they're only one of many elements that are necessary for victory.

I'm damn proud to have backed (and cheered on) many of the key people and organizations that conceived of, designed, built, and are driving our tanks.

(Sorry for all of the war talk – it's not pleasant, but we ARE in a war and those defending the status quo will stop at nothing…)

Below is more from DFER's memo on RTTT (also posted at:



August 24, 2010

Race to the Top: By the Numbers

Of the record $100 billion in federal education funds appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009, Congress and President Obama set aside $5 billion to be awarded at the discretion of the Secretary of Education to states, districts, and consortia that develop robust education reform plans. The $5 billon is broken down as follows:

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