Thursday, January 14, 2010

Race to the Top

Race to the Top (RttT) is a massive federal program developed by the US Department of Education to administer the billions of dollars which will be granted to America's school districts. But there are strings attached. RttT is not just about giving out money – the Federal government is using RttT to motivate states and local school districts to make significant changes to some of their fundamental modes of operation, and not everyone likes it.

The goals of RttT are summarized on the USDOE website as follows:

Through Race to the Top, we are asking States to advance reforms around four specific areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.

For school districts which choose to participate in the RttT program, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) had to be submitted to the district's state Department of Education by January 11, 2010. The MOU must be signed by the Superintendent, the school board President, and the President of the teachers' union. According to the list posted on the ODOE website, our school district has indeed filed an MOU.

Interestingly, not all of Ohio's school districts filed an MOU prior to the 2010 deadline. Colleen Grady of the State of Ohio Education blog has just posted a story reporting that the Youngstown City School District has decided to not participate in the RttT process because their teachers' union had a number of objections to the 'strings' attached to the program. The Fordham Institution's Flypaper blog had a similar announcement in regard to Dayton Public Schools.

I'm not a big fan of letting the Federal government bully us around with our own tax money, and so I could find it easy to object to this RttT process on those philosophical grounds alone (Texans apparently feel this way as well). But then you look at our Five Year Forecast, and that whopping $65 million cash shortfall we are projected to accumulate by 2014, and you have say that we have to look seriously at any opportunity to put extra money in the coffers.

I'm glad the Hilliard Education Association (HEA), the union representing our teachers and other certified members of the team, agreed to co-sign the MOU and not just reject it out of hand as did the teachers in Youngstown and Dayton. There will be a ton of dialog, compromise, innovation, and no doubt frustration required to fulfill the requirements of this process, but at least we get to have the conversations – and a shot at the money.


  1. Thanks for the shout out on your blog Paul. We over at State of Ohio Education are regular readers of Save Hilliard Schools blog.

    Race to the Top does have a lot of strings, but it seems short-sighted to fail to submit an MOU at this stage because there is still an opportunity (after reviewing the full application and determining exactly how much money Ohio will receive)to withdraw. Districts, especially struggling districts Dayton and Youngstown, that are in line for substantial funding should have been first in line with the MOU. Instead, they didn't even wait to see whether this opportunity would be a genuine help.

    It's a sad situation for these communities, but even sadder for the children.

  2. Indications are that RttT will neither be much of a plug in our financial hole, or much of an incentive for reform. Early estimates are that Hilliard's share of this money would be a one-time shot of $500,000 or less.

    Here is a dose of realism on the subject.

  3. Ohio's RttT submission to the federal government makes some very interesting reading. You can access it here:

  4. Here is an interesting take on the politics of RttT by the folks over at Flypaper. It makes a lot of sense to me.


  5. Folks may not know, but there are "blog spammers" out there who attach comments which look much like the junk one receives by email these days. In cleaning up some of those comments, I accidentally deleted the following, which came in from an Anonymous commenter:

    Pummel me if you want, but I see no indicators that the administration is being mnipulative with the RttT grants. Will Strickland and other governors play politics with RttP cash? Yes. But, I don't see this coming from Duncan (and I'm no Obama supporter).

    Duncan spoke at a charter school rally in Columbus last summer and is very supportive of school choice.

    Duncan has bumped heads with the NEA and AFT over their resistence to weeding out bad teachers and on easy tenure.

    Duncan announced that state standards are way too low and need to be raised (impetus for RttT)

    As "the man who the Obamas did not trust to educate their kids" while he was superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, I had no faith that Duncan would be anything other than a rubber stamp for status quo, union nonsense. But he's been remarkably vocal that things need to change.