Curious what the Department of Education letter to the Race to the Top finalists actually said? Well, wonder no more. A couple of thoughtful sources have passed on copies of that Golden Ticket, and I'm pleased to share it in the spirit of our earnest Secretary of Education's desire for "unprecedented transparency." In full, the letter read: Dear Colleague, Congratulations on your selection as a finalist in the Race to the Top grant competition! As you know, you are asked to bring a team of up to five individuals to Washington, DC to present on your Race to the Top ...


Yesterday's announcement of the Race to the Top round one finalists prompted me to take another look at just what these exemplars promised. It's rarely been noted that RTT actually embodies two schools of reform. The first type of reform cracks open systems hampered by anachronistic statutes and policies. Thus, the enthusiasm (including my own) for RTT encouraging states to knock down data "firewalls" or lift charter caps. These measures don't tell states or local officials what to do with the newfound freedom; they merely create the space in which to act. These are among the kinds of measures I ...


Sixteen Race to the Top finalists, huh? Secretary Duncan has repeatedly told us to watch what he does, not what he says, once declaring, "It's going to be a very, very high bar. People won't believe it until we do it. Obviously, hold us accountable for sticking to that." Okay, I'm watching. On his signature program, the one that made palatable a hundred billion dollars in subsidies for the status quo, Duncan just declared that 40 percent of the applicants are finalists. So, I'm watching, but so far I'm not impressed....


So, the announcement of the round one Race to the Top finalists is upon us. In the run-up, a pernicious parlor game in edu-policy circles has been "name the RTT finalists." It's played in D.C. and Denver, New Orleans and New York... really, anywhere you get more than two edu-wonks together. Thankfully, it's about to come to a close. Unfortunately, it'll be followed by "name the RTT winners." Sigh... If the exercise were just tedious, I'd let it go. But the whole game, and the mindset it reflects, is actually far more harmful than that. It turns school reform ...


An update to the point mentioned in my last post that the Race to the Top applications on the Department of Education's website are scanned PDFs that aren't searchable. A former government employee was surprised and indicated that the way the applications are currently posted does not appear to make them accessible to visually impaired readers. Thus, beyond merely being a nuisance to read, this may also make them in violation of the federal government's own policies and standard practice regarding web accessibility for the disabled. As I've noted before, a successful process hinges on high levels of transparency and ...


One of the things about Race to the Top is the number of folks who have shared with me the wonders of state plans without having had much chance to read them. I can't say I blame them, as perusing the apps feels a lot like searching a haystack for the proverbial needle. The apps feature hundreds of pages of edu-jargon, claims of dubious credibility, and thick appendices of uncertain utility. Those poor reviewers, tackling this chore with their frail rubrics and overdressed point system. Complicating matters is that the Department of Education, by scanning in the various state apps ...


With the announcement of the round one Race to the Top (RTT) finalists upon us, I can only say I'm glad I declined the invitation to apply to be an RTT reviewer. For those who have had a chance to peruse the applications, you know what I mean. For those of you who haven't, it's worth a look. The notion that any responsible person can read these and determine which deserve how many points on a given criteria... well, good luck. In any event, here are a few fun facts that emerge when perusing the mounds of words. • The total ...


Across the nation, districts are only enduring the first phase of what is likely a several year stretch of tough budgets. Why? First, property taxes account for so much of school spending, residential real estate prices are only now bottoming, commercial properties will be falling into 2011, and states adjust valuation on a rolling basis. This means the impact of the real estate bubble likely won't fully play out until 2014 or so. Second, thus far, districts have been cushioned by more than $100 billion in stimulus funds. Third, going forward, K-12 is going to be competing with demands for ...


Word on the street is that 10-15 "finalists" from the first round of Race to the Top (RTT) are going to be announced Monday. The finalists will be feted and invited to D.C. for a chance to prostrate themselves before Department of Education officials and, presumably (though it's not entirely to clear to this semi-informed observer), the 58 reviewers. That's hardly the only thing that's unclear. In fact, for all the overwrought praise for our earnest Secretary of Education's promises of "maximum integrity and transparency," I'd venture to say that RTT is actually quite opaque--and in ways likely to ...


Cynics like me have worried that the Department of Education's Race to the Top (RTT) program has, in a time of fiscal crisis, distracted attention from addressing unsustainable state budgets. Such cynicism has been deemed unfashionable by administration allies, cash-starved state and local officials keen to stay in the Department of Education's good graces, and editorial writers eager to say nice things about our earnest Secretary of Education. Much of this enthusiasm has been driven by the fact that RTT has (in theory) changed the way the federal government and the states do business. We are shifting from a model ...


The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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