Blocking the Race to the Top

Well, I was wrong in suggesting that Race to the Top money would be spread around to everyone, but I was right in suggesting that RTTT is a largely meaningless exercise.  It turns out that it is meaningless because union opposition to state plans essentially disqualified those states from winning the money.  Only Delaware and Tennessee received money in this round because union opposition blocked the other states.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

The administration appeared to put a very high value on applications that had won wide support from unions and school boards within their states. Florida’s bid, for instance, received the support of just 8% of its unions.

If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will apply in the future unless they have union support.  This means that the unions will dictate what reforms will be pursued, which means that there will be virtually no reform.  This enhancement of union power also undermines the rhetorical effects that RTTT had by narrowing state and local policy debate to those measures acceptable to the unions.

26 Responses to Blocking the Race to the Top

  1. […] Blocking the Race to the Top – Jay P. Greene's Blog […]

  2. […] a veto to the status quo’s defenders will make RTTT “meaningless,” writes Jay Greene. “If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then […]

  3. John says:

    I don’t get it, why do we need to throw money towards states where things are already working out?

  4. Greg Forster says:

    If it’s an “enhancement of union power” that “narrows state and local policy debate to those measures acceptable to the unions,” then I’d say your prediction that RTTT would be “meaningless” hasn’t been vindicated, it’s been falsified. Alas.

  5. Good point, Greg.

    And John, the idea is to reward positive ideas so that others will aspire to do the same. Unfortunately, they are union-approved ideas.

  6. One other point — union opposition caused Florida (and other states) to lose out on federal funds. This should be remembered the next time the unions say that Florida schools need more money.

  7. Mike G says:

    Fordham Foundation agrees with you that union opposition blocked likely winners LA and FL, but also said that winner DE and TN were solid “reform” plans that still managed to get union support. Perhaps b/c at least in TN, weak union. You reject that review?

  8. […] for all its talk of reform, RttT still seems tied to significant elements of the status quo, as Dr. Jay Greene explains:If people know that union opposition scuttles a state’s chances, then no state will […]

  9. MOMwithAbrain says:

    I agree with the union opposition. Why on earth is the Feds dictating what should be handled at the local level? Why would we want to tie evaluations to a test?

    How does this improve the quality of textbooks and curriculum? When so much of it lacks “content”? How does this improve the quality of Ed. the teachers receive in the Schools of Ed where they focus on pedagogy rather than content?

    This will be another expensive failure. A big part of the problem is using Construtivism in the classroom.

  10. Mike G. — My point is that the unions only accepted the TN and DE plans because they were not fully aware they could singlehandedly block specific reform proposals. Now that everyone knows how this game will be played, the unions are effectively in charge of it.

  11. Brian says:

    This is an awfully conspiratorial view of the process, but based on what? Because the WSJ says the administration “appears” to have put a high value on union support? They’re own graphic shows lots of others states that also had high union support that did not get money.

    Now, one could make the arguement, after doing some research (the kind it “appears” the WSJ has yet to do), that one of two things happenned. One possible explanation is that the scoring system is too heavily weighted in the areas that measure union support. This may be true, but where is the analysis? A mere suggestion by WSJ doesn’t count. Second, it may be the case that the administration coerced the process by pulling strings behind the scenes. Again, where is the evidence of that?

    My hunch? The scoring system is flawed and the scorekeepers were flawed. Incompetence should always be considered before conspiracy.

  12. The administration itself is justifying the scores based on stakeholder support. This is why this justification appears in the coverage in Ed Week, Washington Post, blog posts by Rick Hess, Flypaper, etc… Just search around and you’ll find much more than this one source.

  13. Brian says:

    The official press release mentions all kinds of things…union support is included, but it certainly isn’t the lead. In a follow-up interview when asked about the issue Duncan said: “Buy-in was a piece of the application, but by no means the determining factor.”

    I agree that the coverage is honing in on the union issue. Just not sure how important it really was.

    Tennessee and Delaware had the highest scores, and something like 50 reviewers were involeved with the RTTT apps. I think there were eight reviewers for each state. A systematic review of those apps would be interesting, but it is hard to conclude at this point that somehow union support was the key deciding factor. Again, look at the list WSJ put out. Plenty of states had 100% buy in, inlcuding third place Georgia.

  14. Brian — You are just saying that union support was a necessary but not a sufficient condition for winning. Once veryone understands that it is necessary, the unions will be able to dictate the terms of future proposals. This is not a “conspiracy,” it is just the political logic of the program as implemented.

  15. Brian says:

    Yes, I see how in the future this may increase the amount states attempt to please unions, but I don’t know that union support was or will be “necessary.” There will be a tension between that and garnering points from other areas of the application, areas that award points for reforms that unions simply will not support.

    I’m just in a non-cynical mood I guess. Time will likely prove me wrong…

  16. Greg Forster says:

    Brian, if union support wasn’t the most obvious takeaway here, what do you think was? I mean, is there anyone who thinks of Delaware and Tennessee as leaders in school reform? Did they propose anything that was a quantum above what everyone else was proposing? When you compare Delaware and Tennessee to their nearest competitors (especially Florida) does anything at all stand out other than the fact that Delaware and Tennessee got union support and their closest competitors didn’t?

    Accepting the most parsimonious explanation that covers all the data is not conspiratorial thinking, it’s the ABCs of sound epistemology.

  17. Patrick says:

    I know this is only one of many exams, but Florida’s low income students outperform the low income students in Delaware on the NAEP 4th grade reading exam. Delaware stayed at 214 for 2007 and 2009 while Florida increased from 213 to 217. Florida beats some other Delaware subgroups on that exam as well.

    From 2003 to 2009 (when all states are taking the NAEP) Only Alabama and D.C. beat the improvement Florida saw on the 4th grade reading exam.

    Delaware tied with Lousiana. Tennesse improved more than Delaware but their average student is only doing as well as the average low-income student in Florida.

  18. Brian says:

    I spent a little time with the scorecards from Florida, Delaware, and Tennessee. There were 5 reviewers per state. Florida lost points in a number of areas. Of the 5 major areas (not looking at sub-categories), Florida lost to Delaware and Tennessee in 4 categories (A,C,D,E), tied in one (B), and won one(D). I am aso surprised that in most cases, the scores on these applications are remarkably consistent. Delaware knocked it out of the park on C (Data systems to support instruction), garnering a full 47 out 0f 47 from all five reviewers. Florida did pretty bad in this same category, and the scores are fairly consistent. Florida also did particularly bad in D (Great leaders and teachers), and it seems to be the case that most reviewers were not pleased with their lack of a clearly articulated merit-pay plan.

    Was union support a factor? Yes. Particularly, look at reviewer 5, who gave Florida 15 points less than the other four reviewers for lack of union support (see section Aii). At the same time, that was only one reviewer in one subcategory.

  19. rse says:

    Georgia doesn’t have unions and disregarded the teacher organizations in the state in developing its plan.

    They do not seem to have been penalized for this however because they had support from all the state-wide political entities and the business community that has a tradition already of working with the Atlanta Public Schools system. Those business supporters seem to have simply assumed that RTT would be a good thing without scrutiny.

    Where Georgia lost its points was the fact that only 23 of the 180 school districts in the state signed on. These districts represented about 40% of the state’s students. Many of the districts that signed up to participate have angry teachers as the terms of participation became public after the MOUs were signed.

    It will be interesting to see if Georgia can increase district participation or will lose some of the 23 districts in Round 2.

  20. Greg Forster says:

    Florida scores low on data systems? In what galaxy? Florida’s data system makes most states look like they’re still using punch cards.

  21. matthewladner says:

    Control G, plus Florida is on the cusp of passing a bill to actually USE teacher-linked value added data.

  22. Brian says:

    No, the category is not “data systems,” it is “data systems to support instruction.” Almost across the board, the reviewers dinged Florida for not articulating a strategy to use their data to support instruction. For example, one reviewer wrote: “Their plan…doesn’t speak adequately to how it will use data from these systems to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies and approaches to instruction for all of their students.”
    Strangely, one reviewer gave Florida the full 18 points on this section, but all of the others gave Florida low scores. It is section C3. The reviewers comments are here:

    Click to access florida.pdf

    I’m not saying I care about this particlular goal, I am just Control B’ing what it actually is.

  23. Greg Forster says:

    There’s nothing “strange” about that. Florida leads the nation (with the possible exception of California) on using data to improve instruction. So obviously what happened here is that one reviewer either didn’t get, or chose to disregard, the memo from the head office specifying that this was the category they were supposed to BS on in order to deny Florida the top slot that it clearly deserves.

    Again, it’s not conspiratorial thinking if it’s the only parsimonious theory that covers all the facts.

  24. Patrick says:

    Is it me or was student achievement a very small factor in winning?

    Student achievement was 25 point, where as LEA comtiment and support totaled 60 points. THere was another 10 points for ensuring “stakeholder” support.

    There were 40 points total for the common core standard intiative…

    Florida lost by 12.8 points – clearly union and school district support was key – they were worth 70 points. (at least, I just glanced through).

  25. […] P. Greene, “Blocking the Race to the Top,” Jay P. Greene’s Blog, March 29, 2010, at (April 15, 2010). See also Neil King, Jr., “Only Two States Win Race to Top,” The Wall Street […]

  26. […] didn't even offer much in the way of measurable reform), the Obama administration has disappointed school reformers of all stripes, especially those championing more serious […]

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