Taking the Pole Position on Race

Those Phase One Race to the Top finalists have now been announced.  As we all know by now, the 16 jurisdictions that will now vie for the honor of being the first three or four states to win a RttT grant include: Colorado, Delaware, Washington DC, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For Eduflack, the only real surprise here is Washington, DC (which is a pleasant surprise).  The remaining 15 are all states that have been on most lists for some time.  While a few may be surprised by Illinois, those doubters should read the proposal.  It was one of the strongest in the pool.  And while some may question South Carolina, the state has been touting it has the best application in the pool.  So no major surprised there.

Now let’s take a look at some of the interesting facts.  Back in the summer, the Gates Foundation provided $250,000 grants to 15 states to help with the development of their Race grants.  Fourteen of those states submitted for Phase One (Texas was the holdout), and 10 of those 14 made the cut — Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.  And of the remaining six finalists, four of them received later assistance from Gates, after NGA and CCSSO urgings.  Only Delaware and South Carolina did the heavy lifting themselves.

The four Gates-funded states who didn’t make the cut?  Arkansas, Arizona, Minnesota, and New Mexico.  (Along with the Republic of Texas, of course.)

Only one of the 16 states — Colorado — is west of Mississippi.  That seems a bit surprising, but the scoring rubric didn’t take geography into account.  The South is particularly well represented, which some could see as a sign of the region’s willingness to embrace education reforms and others may see as the value of right to work states and weaker teachers’ unions/organizations.

And for you history buffs, eight of the original 13 colonies made the cut!  Condolences to New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia.

According to the US Department of Education, each of these states scored at least 80 percent — or 400 points — on the reviewer scores.  States will be coming to DC in a week and a half (without their consultants and outside proposal preparers) to orally defend their proposals.  And states will either gain or lose points based on the interview and swimsuit competitions.

If academic achievement is the name of the game, it is a surprising mix of states.  Looking at eighth grade NAEP reading performance (one of the best measures of actual student academic success), of the 16 finalists, only Massachusetts is in the Top 10 for eighth grade NAEP reading scores.  And only four of the states — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado — rank in the top 20.  Five of the finalists (Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, and DC) are in the bottom quartile. 

While Eduflack has read his share of RttT applications, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the nuance and the details (though I will continue to pretend to be to amaze people at forums and cocktail parties).  The finalists appear to be a strong mix of states with a good track record, states with a strong plan for the future, states that have made major legislative changes to qualify for RttT, and some states that really need the dollars.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying.

The US Department of Education’s formal announcement and supporting materials can be found here.  Politics K-12 has great analysis here, while Eduwonk weighs in here, Andy Smarick here, with Tom Vander Ark here.  Who else wants on the carousel of RttT fun?

118 thoughts on “Taking the Pole Position on Race

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