Judging in the “Race to the Top” competition

The federal education department’s $4 billion “Race to the Top” competition received lots of attention from journalists and education policy types. Most federal education money is given to states and school districts using complex formulas that depend on factors such as population, poverty and political calculations. The Obama Administration was encouraged by Jon Schnur, one of its early education advisers, to shake that process up. The feds would describe the reforms they wanted states to undertake and states would use those as the criteria for applying for the money. Those that best met the criteria would win. Those that didn’t measure up would go without. But who would make that determination? The department appointed judges to read the applications and score them based on explicit criteria. Only two states–Delaware and Tennessee–won grants in the first round. States are gearing up to submit applications by June 1st for the second round.

Steven Brill, the journalist who founded American Lawyer magazine, touched on some of this in an analysis appearing in the upcoming New York Times Magazine. (Here’s a link to the HechingerEd post on this.) He also published a piece on EdWeek.0rg in which he analyzes the scoring process in greater depth. He raises a lot of questions about that pr0cess.  Here’s a glimpse:

A review of the vetters’ score sheets and written comments juxtaposed against the applications they judged suggests that their standards were inconsistent, that some were naive about the difference between promises and the capacity to deliver, and that others fell victim to the propensity of many states to misstate the status of their programs and overstate the buy-in they had from key stakeholders, especially the teachers’ unions.

States have to submit their applications for a second round of the competition on June 1.

–Richard Lee Colvin