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The Politics of Federal Education Funding? Questions about Race to the Top Judgments

The new school year is underway, and I’m just trying to keep my head above water while this giant wave of reaction to the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant announcements keeps rolling in. Seriously, one of these days my mom or dad is going to have to teach me how to swim.

But since I can’t get my mind off being aghast that Colorado missed out on its chance at $175 million, you just really need to check out some of these reactions. First, a trifecta from our friends over at EdNews Colorado:

  1. Alexander Ooms reminds us not to overreact, that outcomes are important and we can effect positive change without the $175 million
  2. Robert Reichardt points out that Colorado and other Western states can’t win until we effectively explain how local control really works
  3. Ben DeGrow from our own Education Policy Center notes how Colorado’s RTTT loss could open the door for the unions’ “politics of blocking”

Put together, a wide range of observations on the Race to the Top results raises plenty of questions, and ultimately casts doubt on the value of the program:

  • The Eduwonk Andy Rotherham highlights some of the problems with the grant-review process and suggests Secretary Arne Duncan convene a commission to improve the process for future versions of RTTT (or other large-scale federal education grant programs)
  • Rick Hess feels sorry for Duncan for all the messes created, including having “to tell strong-willed reform leaders like Colorado state senator Mike Johnston and state chief Dwight Jones….’Sorry about that, but go check out Hawaii’s reform agenda.’”
  • Mike Petrilli points out that when reviewers updated their scores, mediocre Ohio somehow passed up reform mecca Louisiana: “Ohio’s surge allowed Ted Strickland to edge out both Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie–and the White House can’t be too upset about that.”
  • In a similar vein, Harvard’s Paul Peterson says the process is suspect, bringing attention to the fact that 9 of the 10 winners were Blue States (Democrat-leaning) and concluding that “RttT is as much or more a partisan boondoggle as an education reform strategy.”

All that being said, if Colorado still feels bad about losing out, at least we’re not New Jersey — where a bureaucratic mistake on the application form cost the state $400 million in federal education funds. Talk about a political hot potato….