Yesterday, I had the honor of hosting my dear friend and esteemed colleague Diane Ravitch at AEI for the first forum on her new book. Those interested can read about and watch the event here later today. As readers are likely aware, Diane's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has created quite a stir--due largely to her argument that accountability and school choice, two ideas with which she had long been associated, have been "hijacked" by MBAs and foundation types and have served as ineffective, destructive distractions. On her Bridging Differences blog and elsewhere, Diane ...


Race to the Top (RTT) finalists have been issued instructions for their big upcoming trip to Washington, the one where they'll put on their dog-and-pony shows for reviewers and Department of Education staff. The instructions raise fresh grounds for concern about how much care Department officials have devoted to bolstering the credibility of this $4 billion grant competition and buffering it from political considerations. Department officials reviewed the instructions with finalists in a hush-hush phone call last Friday, but a couple of sources who were on the call and who share the commitment to "maximum integrity and transparency" that our ...


A couple weeks ago I pointed out that one could predict with 77% accuracy the amount that states asked for in Race to the Top (RTT) funding by looking at only two things, neither of them related to the state's RTT application. The first is state student enrollment, and the second is the size of a state's reported 2010 budget shortfall. At the time, I expressed doubts about what this might mean regarding RTT's ability to change the way the federal government and the states do business and for President Obama's State of the Union promise that, under RTT, "Instead ...


I was inclined to tag this post, "How intellectual conformity stifles 'diverse' thinking." But that seemed a bit long-winded. Anyway, here's the deal. The Politics of Education Association has decided on a theme for its special Education Politics Series issue of Vanderbilt University's Peabody Journal of Education. The theme? "Post-Racialism in the K-12 and Higher Education Arenas: The Politics of Education in the Obama Administration Era." An interesting topic--though the editors quickly try to fix that. Editors Enrique Aleman, Andrea Rorrer, and Laurence Parker laboriously seek to explain the special issue's purpose (as only three jargon-besotted academics can). They write: "As...


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 ...


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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