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Pencils Down!

Today is the deadline for states to submit their applications to the feds for the Early Learning Challenge Race to the Top competition. Now the action moves to the agencies and the cohort of anonymous peer reviewers who will ultimately determine the outcomes of this competition.

In July, 36 states and the District of Columbia indicated their intention to apply--it's not clear whether all those states will actually submit applications, and possible that some that didn't do so will.

The big question, though, is what the impact of all this will be. When the preliminary Early Learning Challenge criteria were released in July, White House Education Adviser Roberto Rodriguez said that "We believe this Race to the Top can have the same kind of impact" as the first Race to the Top competition, which spurred 29 states (including many that didn't win) to pass or consider legislation to create new teacher evaluation systems, expand or create alternative routes to certification, raise charter school caps, or authorize more aggressive strategies to improve low-performing schools (among other things). This lead one observer to remark that the impact of RTT was largely over by the time the money went out the door.

But, due to differences in the timing of the Early Learning Challenge competition, things haven't rolled out the same way this time around. This seems like a big squandered opportunity (and that's at least as much Congress' as the administration's fault) to drive state policy change, rather than just rewarding promises and past performance, and leads me to a fair degree of skepticism about the likely impacts of this Race to the Top competition.

I've got more--a lot more--to say about this, but I'll hold off until the applications are in and there's a clearer picture of what states are actually committing to here. A big outstanding question is how the lessons that the Department of Education learned from round 1 affect the rubrics and selection of peer reviewers for this competition.

Stay tuned--and for those of you who actually worked on state applications, enjoy your first good night's sleep in what I'm guessing is some time.

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