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 ...


Yesterday, I noted the import of creating clear, coherent, credible, and transparent processes for governing the Race to the Top (RTT) and Investing in Innovation (i3) funds. Making this task especially vital are the enormous sums of discretionary dollars in play. The stimulus fund set-aside for RTT and i3 alone is almost five times the $1 billion a year for Reading First which, just a few years ago, was regarded as a giant discretionary program. And Reading First's travails were enough to unwind substantial progress that had been made in reading policy. The Department should be holding itself (and should ...


I like the intuitions guiding Race to the Top (RTT) and the companion Investing in Innovation (i3) fund. I do. I'm a fan of charter schooling, improved data systems, rewarding effective teachers, and a bunch of the other ideas in play. I believe K-12 schooling spends too much time regarding our $600 billion a year in public funds as an entitlement, and too little time thinking about investing wisely and strategically. And I believe the feds can play a useful role when it comes to promoting transparency, overcoming collective action problems, and providing political cover for state and district leaders ...


I spent the weekend in Atlanta at the annual conference of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. In gatherings like that, folks frequently ask me for thoughts about the policy process (which is amusing if you consider that I've never worked in government or, so far as I know, ever actually, you know, impacted policy). Anyway, I wound up in a couple terrific conversations about how researchers and educators could more effectively shape policy. I noticed that my fellow Ed Week blogging newbie Walt Gardner tackled this very subject last week. He expressed frustration that policymakers seem too ...


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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