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Unanswered Race to the Top Questions

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Friday's unveiling of the criteria for the Race to the Top awards answered a lot of questions about how the U.S. Department of Education is going to dole out $4 billion in competitive grants.

But a lot of questions remain, at least as far as we're concerned:

1. Given that the applications require signatures from the governor and the chief and the state board of education president, what if one is particularly obstinate and won't sign on? Not all chiefs and governors have gotten along, after all. South Carolina would be a top contender for testing this rule.

2. Who is the department going to find to judge these things? They want "peers" who are education experts in their fields, but so many of these folks work in or for states. University professors might be key here.

3. The list of people and entities that the department wants to see support from, regarding a state's application, is lengthy and exhaustive. From every participating local school district to teachers' unions to charter school organizers to the state attorney general (when state laws are being presented as evidence of having a policy in place.) You can find the list on page 36 of the proposed rules. Does the department really want hundreds of letters and/or signatures?

4. Given the department's focus on turning around large numbers of low-performing schools, which are concentrated in urban areas, do states with mostly rural populations have a shot at this money? And in states with big urban centers that win the money, will rural schools lose out?

What questions do you have about Race to the Top?

7 Comments

All good questions. Regarding question one, though, by my read the state teachers union is also a non-negotiable. So they have to be factored into the triad you note, and they may definitely not see eye-to-eye with the governor or chief state school officer.

The one huge unanswered question is how many RTT grants ED actually expects to give out when all is said and done. Is this meant for 6-8 states, as some are saying, or do we expect most states to get a piece of RTT? When those judges are reviewing apps, is it just to make sure they meet the grade, or are we truly ranking applications so that only a select number of states will see a cut of the money. There is a huge difference between getting 1/7 of $4 billion or 1/45th.

And if the states are really competing against one another, why wouldn't a state wait until Phase II so they could review and copy those who won in Phase I?

Washington is one of a handful of states that has laws prohibiting charter schools. Do you think public schools in Washington will be able to compete successfully for Race to the Top funds?

These are all questions I need to add to my list. I'll see what I can do to find out the answers.

good questions, michele --
here are a few of mine from friday, much more basic / beginner stuff we still don't really know:

http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2009/07/reform-unanswered-questions-about-race-to-the-top.html

one other i came across today was mike klonsky's: where's the research saying that performance pay and loosening charter caps really increases student achievement?

http://michaelklonsky.blogspot.com/2009/07/starving-schools-into-reform.html

Once all these charter schools are established, how are they going to deal with the kids left behind in the shuttered districts? Once the old schools are closed, the charter schools will have to deal with the problem children and families that have caused problems over the years which they have been avoiding. Regular public school principals and teachers are hamstrung by regulations. It will be interesting to see how students who don't like a teacher make the choice to make them look bad on purpose. It is going to teaching into a popularity contest much like principals who hope to have their contracts renewed causing them to walk a fine line between appeasing parents, students, and school boards.

Some discussion has been held to say that teacher's unions will be a player in the whole scenario of the Race to the Top Funds. I applaud that effort, but what I want to know is how would a union's refusal to sign off on the application going to affect the application's chances of being awarded? So far, no one seems to be answering that one. I say, if you can't get the key people (teachers and employees) to buy in that the whole thing is doomed from the beginning. So again, How do the unions participation or non-participation play into the awarding of money?

I am uncomfortable with the requirement that the state be a participant in the National Standards project.
Is anyone else?

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