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Ed. Dept. Seeks to Correct Race to the Top Record

This editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times appears to be causing the U.S. Department of Education some Race to the Top trouble.

And this may be an instance in which the department hasn't really earned it.

The Times writes of a "deal" (presumably brokered between U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) to let the state apply for round two of Race to the Top even though only a few districts would take part. And this deal supposedly allowed the education secretary to save face by ensuring the largest state applied for his signature education reform competition.

The writer states that the deal represents a change of heart by the department after originally snubbing a similar proposal offered months ago by L.A. Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who wanted his district to apply for the competition by itself, as a lone district.

The piece further states: "It never made sense for the Education Department to insist that only entire states could apply for Race to the Top..." It made perfect sense! The law, as passed by Congress, makes it a state competition. That means an entire state must apply. Nor do the regulations require all districts to participate (though all districts must have the opportunity); getting more buy-in simply gets you more points.

There's probably little doubt that Arne and Arnold talked, and there was probably some strong persuasion going on by Duncan to encourage California's participation in the round-two competition. And, sure, Duncan probably told the governor he'd consider a California application with only a few large, participating districts—because he has to consider all applications that meet the basic criteria. California shouldn't take that as a particularly encouraging sign.

So, to reiterate, the stimulus law is the stimulus law, and only states can apply. Furthermore, the Race to the Top regulations require states to open up Race to the Top to all of their districts. Not all may choose to participate, but states can't handpick their districts. And if a state only gets a few districts to participate, it can still compete under existing rules (no secret deal with Arne required!)

The Times piece must have been worrisome enough that the department, in an email to states inviting them to a May 7 conference call to answer final questions on the round-two competition, clarified the law, and the regulations.

"[T]he Department would like to correct recent news reports which incorrectly indicate that states do not have to give all LEAs (school districts) the option to participate in the state's Race to the Top application. These reports are wrong."

The department is even disputing the Times piece (though not by name) on its web site, so read the full text of its clarification here.


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