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Let's Reverse the Damage From Race to the Top, EPI Report Says

A new report by the Economic Policy Institute finds big flaws in the Race to the Top program and questions how much the $4 billion spent to spur education improvements in the states will actually narrow achievement gaps and improve student outcomes.

The report was released today by the American Association of School Administrators and the Broader Bolder Approach to Education, a national campaign launched by the left-leaning EPI. The Race to the Top is the Obama administration's signature education-improvement tool, funded originally with $4 billion in economic-stimulus money provided by Congress in 2009. It led to a fierce competition among states, who provided supposedly ideas to improve data systems, standards and tests, low-performing schools and teacher-evaluation systems. Eleven states and D.C. shared the original $4 billion.

Now, three years later, the report found that states:

• Set goals for improving student achievement that will be nearly impossible to make. (In a story I did for EdWeek two years ago, many other experts agreed the states' Race to the Top goals would be hard to reach.)
• Have encountered numerous delays in implementing teacher-evaluation systems.
• Have focused on the tested subjects at the expense of others, particularly when it comes to evaluating educators who work in nontested subjects, such as the arts.

"President [Barack] Obama would like to leave as part of his legacy substantial improvements in U.S. education," the report states. "Recognizing the flaws inherent in Race to the Top, reversing the damage it has done, and enacting more comprehensive education policies in the administration's second term could make that legacy a proud one."

In many ways, the report is a critique of the general direction of education-improvement efforts across the country. It faults states for focusing on developing teacher evaluations and not as much on using those results to improve instruction. It faults Race to the Top and federal officials for setting tight timelines and providing not nearly enough money to help districts with heavy concentrations of poor and minority students. And, it faults states and the feds for providing limited funding and a lack of professional development linked to the common-core standards.

In a more-sweeping sense, the report faults federal and state officials for failing to address through Race to the Top what the groups view as the root causes of achievement gap—societal factors such as poverty.

UPDATE 3:56 P.M.: The U.S. Department of Education had this to say about the report:

Race to the Top, from the start, has been an invitation to states to reinvent their educational systems in ways that serve the needs of students, teachers and families far better. States brought forward ambitious, multi-year plans that will last well beyond the grant period, and we have worked with them in a spirit that combines accountability with flexibility. It is too early to measure the student-level impact of this innovative program, but even at this point, we are seeing promising signs, as states pioneer systems to raise standards, strengthen teaching, and prepare students for college and career. No one ever doubted that change this big would be hard, and while we have worked with states to make necessary adjustments, the big picture is that states' efforts are largely in keeping with the scope and timeline of their plans. The Department will continue to work with states to support what is working, to make necessary adjustments, and to understand where we can learn and improve.

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