RttT: The Odds

August 20, 2009 | Blog

The New Teacher Project’s (NTP) odds sheet on states’ chances for securing Race to the Top funding is a helpful guide on where states stand. It is relatively on target given available information, and shows that states like California, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin may be ineligible for RttT grants given existing statutory restrictions on what information can inform teacher evaluations or other factors.

Beyond that, I think the ‘highly competitive,’ ‘competitive,’ and ‘somewhat competitive’ gradations used by the NTP report are mostly guesswork. Until the U.S. Department of Education (ED) makes clear how it is going to balance the two primary selection criteria — Reform Conditions and Reform Plan — much of this is unquantifiable. The nine Reform Conditions articulated in the ED’s draft selection criteria are: academic standards, high-quality assessments, statewide longitudinal data system, alternate routes to teaching, interventions in low-performing schools, charter school expansion, demonstrating significant academic progress, making education funding a priority, and enlisting statewide support and commitment. States that may not be as strong in having created these conditions for education reform can only hope that the ED weighs proposed Reform Plan strategies equally to or more heavily than the Reform Conditions criteria. If ED chooses to steer the money primarily to states that have a proven track record of education policy reform and the results to back it up, then middling and poorly prepared states cannot hope that a stellar application will bail them out from having been reform laggards in recent years.

Until we know more information about the selection process, it is just too easy to pick apart a 5-scale scoring rubric such as that employed by TNTP. As an example, I might quibble with the likes of Minnesota, Missouri and New Jersey being ranked above Massachusetts. Will Massachusetts get credit for its stellar NAEP results? Or will the fact that Minnesota is more charter school friendly trump such outcome measures, despite the fact that charters in the Gopher State don’t appear to achieve particularly good results? Those are the types of decisions that the ED will have to make in establishing scoring criteria and the application reviewers will have to make in scoring state applications.

Another wild card in all of this is the funding that 15 states (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas) are receiving from the Gates Foundation to hire consultants to help them write their RttT applications. Will that support from Gates be akin to getting dealt pocket aces? As Dana Goldstein notes in her American Prospect blog post: “During a time of state budget cuts and layoffs, the Gates funds could mean the difference between a barely completed application [which could take “up to 642 hours“] and one given enough attention to win the competition.”

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