Is it time to call shenanigans on Race to the Top?

Patrick Gibbons

Round 1 of Race to the Top (RTTT) is over, and reform fan-favorite Florida has been bested by Delaware and Tennessee. Florida lost a significant amount of points because the state’s application lacked “stakeholder” support – especially among the teacher unions.

However, there is another element to the scoring – human bias. Some of the reviewers appear to have almost nit-picked Florida to death. One reviewer witheld points because Florida didn’t explain which of its MANY reforms produced the dramatic results. Points were also withheld because Florida failed to articulate how it would improve student achievement for Asian and Native American students (Florida’s application highlighted its proven ability to raise achievement levels for all students, plus Hispanic, black and low-income students in particular).

One reviewer docked points because the reviewer felt Florida planned to reduce the achievement gap by “holding the achievement of white students constant over the life of the grant.” For example, Florida promised to improve the level of its already high-achieving fourth-grade white students from 81 percent basic or better to 85 percent basic or better, while low-income and minority students were given a more ambitious goal. Another reviewer withheld points for a similar reason, stating, “[Florida] is closing its achievement gap, in part, by letting the top flounder.”

Flounder? Really? Florida not only manages to improve student achievement across the board, but it does so while also increasing the number of high-achieving students. And frankly, if Florida is letting the top “flounder,” what is the RTTT winner – Delaware – doing?

While Delaware has posted dramatic gains in student achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that state has been relativly stagnent over the last few years. Delaware may have an ambitious plan for improving achievement and closing achievement gaps, but it hasn’t accomplished this in the last six years – at least not like Florida. Despite this, Delaware seems to earn just as many points as Florida on “demonstrating significant progress on improving student achievement,” a category worth 30 of the 500 points in the RTTT application.

Compare for yourself with the charts below (click on the graph to bring up a larger image):



*Source: U.S. Department of Education. FRL = Free and Reduced Lunch. Students eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch program are considered low-income students.