When Pigs Fly

January 21, 2010 | Blog

It’s not often I agree with the Wall Street Journal editorial page, but I guess pigs are flying today. The WSJ‘s take, in today’s editorial (“Race To The Middle?“), on how the Race to the Top selection process should occur is on the mark:

To qualify, Mr. Duncan said states had to, among other things, lift caps on charter schools and remove barriers to using student records to identify good teachers and reward them. He’s also said that “there will be a lot more losers than winners.”

That’s a good sign, but Mr. Duncan will be tempted to give more states less money in order to minimize political blow back and in the name of getting all states to make at least some, minimal progress. This is the Lake Wobegon school of education reform, where every state is above average….

But Race to the Top shouldn’t be about rewarding a state for its grant-writing. It should use federal leverage to help remove barriers that stand in the way of state and local problem solvers.

The leading reform states are well known. Florida has superior data systems, thanks to reforms under former Governor Jeb Bush, and is upending collective bargaining provisions that prevent merit pay for teachers. Colorado has excelled at creating quality charter schools, while Massachusetts’s academic standards are a national model. If states like these get Race to the Top cash, it will send a signal to the rest that they need to do more than mouth the right sentiments or pass a bill. They need to be break political china.

But as long as Race to the Top exists, Mr. Duncan ought to use it to reward only the very best reform states that want the money, perhaps only two or three in the first round.

Hat tip: This Week in Education

Speaking of Mr. Russo, he has provided an excellent resource for those of you who want to dive deep into the state RttT applications. His post provides a link to 22 (and counting!) of the 40 RttT applications filed on Tuesday.


  1. Reply

    David B. Cohen

    January 21, 2010

    Liam -
    Are you nodding in agreement all the way through here, including the WSJ assessment of the states used as examples? Or more in agreement on the broad idea that the DOE shouldn't parcel out the money as evenly as possible as a political favor?

  2. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    January 21, 2010

    Well, there are certainly elements I disagree with. For example, I don't sympathize with Rick Perry in any way, shape or form, nor am I a believer in school vouchers as some magical salve.

    That said, I certainly think that FL and MA are leading contenders and deserving candidates for the reasons stated. Not sure about CO - I wouldn't trumpet its chances based solely on charter school expansion.

    I definitely share the WSJ's hope that the Education Department and its reviewers continues to set the bar high throughout the process.

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