Race Prognostications

Even those who pay modest attention to national education reform issues realize that, this week, the U.S. Department of Education is slated to reveal it list of finalists for Phase One Race to the Top recipients.  Once the double-secret, blue ribbon, expert RttT review panel names the states on its list, each jurisdiction will be scheduling flights to the nation’s capital to defend their Race “dissertations” and make clear to judges and ED officials why they are best positioned to earn the title of Race to the Top state.

In recent days, we’ve had some top-notch analyses of which states may make the final cut.  Tom Carroll has a terrific analysis over here at City Journal, where he awards the top three slots to Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee (naming them very competitive).  He then has four states — Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, and Michigan — as competitive.  Give or take another mid-sized or two small states, that would serve as Carroll’s handicapping of how the $4 billion in initial RttT moneys will be spent.

Over at EdWeek’s Politics K-12, Michele McNeil and Lesli Maxwell have teamed up here to provide a March Madness-style bracket of the RttT competition.  They winnow it down to five winners — Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Tennessee.  Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Minnesota, and Rhode Island just miss McNeil and Maxwell’s bracketology victory. 

Most seem to agree that Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee are locks for RttT, most likely in Phase One this spring but in Phase Two for sure.  But we can’t just give RttT grants to states in the Southeast (and these frontrunners could make life difficult for states like Georgia and North Carolina).  So how does the rest of the field play out?

Eduflack was pleasantly surprised to see Politics K-12 give Illinois the nod.  Personally, I thought the Land of Lincoln wrote an incredibly impressive proposal, more thoughtful than most expected.  While they could get caught up in the politics of the grant (it wasn’t so long ago that Florida was denied an initial Reading First grant because we couldn’t possibly give the first RF check to the President’s brother), one would like to believe that 100 percent of the RttT decisionmaking is being made on merit and strength of plan, not on such political considerations.

And as I’ve raised with Carroll, I agree that Michigan has put forward a strong plan for what it will do in the future should it win a grant.  But we can’t forget that 52 percent of a RttT proposal score is supposed to be based on past performance.  So states like Michigan (along with Delaware and Rhode Island to lesser degrees) may get dinged on their success to date scores. 

On the flip side, it seems that more than a handful of those who should be in the know believe that Colorado’s proposal wasn’t as strong as the rhetoric surrounding it.  Personally, I thought it was a strong proposal, but doesn’t knock any socks off.

If Eduflack were headed out to Vegas this week to put my money on the RttT field, my “can’t miss, take this to the bank” locks, as of March 1, would be Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Tennessee.  Depending on the states that make it to the swimsuit competitions in DC, I could see Pennsylvania taking Ohio’s place.  Colorado is a likely Phase Two.  I also expect another Tier One state (either California or New York) taking home the prize.  Then I could see Delaware, Michigan, or Rhode Island (with my money on Deborah Gist and RI getting the nod if they can overcome the union implications of firing an entire high school) winning for the best of intentions.

Barring any real surprises in the interview stage, I’m going with California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Rhode Island.  How does that fare against the $4 billion pool?  Cali and Florida will account for $1.4 billion.  Ohio picks up $400 million.  Indiana and Tennessee get $200 million apiece.  Colorado and Louisiana split $300 million.  Rhode Island gets $50 million.  That’s $2.55 billion on the first eight states.

For months now, I’ve been saying that there are likely only six to eight states that will cut the muster and earn RttT designation.  But we aren’t going to leave $1.45 billion on the table, particularly when the U.S. Department of Education is asking for Phase Three RttT dollars in the FY2011 federal budget.  So I’d disperse the remainder as follows: New York ($500 million), Illinois ($200 million), Georgia ($200 million), Arizona ($150 million), Kentucky ($100 million), Minnesota ($75 million).  That leaves us with $200 million in the wallet to be split between Delaware, New Mexico, West Virginia, and possibly DC.

We’ll see how the first cut comes this week.  Our finalists will be the most likely winners.  The remaining states will take the time to regroup to put forward a stronger application for Phase Two.  McNeil and Maxwell are right.  Who needs NCAA March Madness when we have RttT?  Too bad they won’t be televising the finalists’ interviews.

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