Most Likely to Succeed: Why Race to the Top Could Be the Most Effective Grant Program Yet
Sunday, August 15, 2010
However, Race to the Top is much more than a large pile of money. The Obama administration has successfully deployed Race to the Top as a full-fledged reform initiative. The program, distinct as a complete public policy shift in its own right, aims to achieve the kinds of reform few other grant programs have inspired.
Race to the Top stands alone in its comprehensive nature among grant funding - addressing everything from academic performance and standards of use for data systems to teacher evaluations and state laws and funding levels. While other grant programs certainly complement its efforts in more targeted ways, such as the State Longitudinal Data Systems grant or funding for Charter Schools, none have ever pushed such an expansive agenda and been so successful. This program marks a distinct break from targeted funding, focusing instead on embracing the "big picture."
The evidence speaks for itself. Even before a single dollar had been awarded, multiple states, including Michigan, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Minnesota, and New York, enacted new laws addressing the various priorities comprised in Race to the Top. New York doubled the number of charter schools allowed throughout the state. Colorado aimed to improve teacher accountability by tying student test scores to teacher evaluation. Nearly every state in the country also joined together in an effort to enhance common academic standards. Without the impetus provided by the grant program it is unlikely such a large swath of state legislatures would have acted as swiftly as they did.
Race to the Top also provided clues to the Obama administration's goals for education reform. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) last reauthorized in 2002 as the "No Child Left Behind Act" is due for Congressional action. In mid-March 2010, the Obama Administration released its Blueprint for Education Reform that read like an Executive Summary of Race to the Top. The plan emphasizes higher academic standards and assessments, innovation in education, teacher and principal effectiveness, and school choice.
Delaware and Tennessee walked away as the only winners of Round I with $100 million and $500 million, respectively. That leaves the original Race to the Top fund with well over $3 billion left, with Round II winners expected this September just as the new school year begins. The administration has requested another $1.35 billion for Fiscal Year 2011, during which individual school districts may also join the race.
Given this effectiveness in furthering various policy goals in such a short amount of time, Race to the Top's lasting legacy is likely to be profound not only for the specific effects in education, but also as an important demonstration of what comprehensively designed grant programs can achieve.