Examiner Editorial: Race to the Top winners have poor records

Second-round finalists of the Obama administration’s signature Race to the Top education reform program, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, are receiving millions of federal stimulus dollars to improve their struggling public schools. But an inherently flawed process does not bode well for the program’s ultimate success. The competition’s welcome transparency (semifinalists’ applications, scores and video presentations were posted online) does not alter the fact that states making the greatest progress enacting the kind of reforms that the $3.4 billion program is supposed to promote were not rewarded for their efforts.

For example, a Fordham Institute study ranks New Orleans’ Recovery School District as the top “reform-friendly” school district in the nation. Critics point to Louisiana’s absence from the winner’s circle as proof that things other than successful academic reform and innovation were rewarded. Colorado led the nation in education reform, including the promotion of charter schools, merit pay, data-based standards and linking teacher evaluations to student achievement, but also somehow failed to make the final cut. New Jersey’s 1,000-page application was tossed out for a clerical error.

Yet Maryland, which was ranked 35th in data quality and 40th in the promotion of charter schools, is a finalist. So is New York, even though the Empire State initially failed to meet the program’s basic requirements and was rocked earlier this month by revelations of a state testing scandal. Both Maryland and D.C., which is also a finalist, have long histories of educational failure. Maryland followed the Thornton Commission’s recommendation to increase education spending by a whopping $1.3 billion over the past decade, but the outlays did virtually nothing for students in Prince George’s County and Baltimore, and failed to put much of a dent in the minority achievement gap in Montgomery County. The D.C. public schools spend more per student than any other district in the country, but its students are still performing well below the national average, despite Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s deservedly lauded three-year attempt to turn things around.

Fordham Institute president Chester Finn Jr. acknowledges that “some places that don’t deserve it are being rewarded. Some that merit gold medals for their reform efforts … are instead punched in the nose.” He gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan a “B” for initiating the Race for the Top competition, which he says has “catalyzed a large amount of worthwhile education-reform activity in a great many places.” That may be so, but why pour additional billions of tax dollars into public school districts with lousy track records while ignoring systems that have demonstrated records of success?

editorialseducationOpinionSFExaminer

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

A health care worker receives one of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital on Tuesday Dec. 15, 2020. (Courtesy SFgov)
SF to open three large sites for COVID-19 vaccinations

Breed: ‘We need more doses. We are asking for more doses’

Tongo Eisen-Martin, a Bernal Heights resident, named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Tongo Eisen-Martin becomes San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate

Bernal Heights resident Tongo Eisen-Martin has become San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate.… Continue reading

Homeless people's tents can be seen on Golden Gate Avenue in the Tenderloin on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo by Ekevara Kitpowsong/S.F. Examiner)
Statewide business tax could bring new funds to combat homelessness

San Francisco could get more than $100 million a year for housing, rental assistance, shelter beds

The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco (a mural by artist Jamie Treacy is pictued) has a lineup of free online programming including activities for youngsters scheduled for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. (Courtesy Demetri Broxton/Museum of the African Diaspora)
Stanford, Museum of the African Diaspora host MLK Day activities

Online offerings include films, music, discussion

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides the US House of Representatives vote on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump at the US Capitol, January 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. - The Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on January 13 opened debate on a historic second impeachment of President Donald Trump over his supporters' attack of the Capitol that left five dead. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
House votes 232-197 to impeach Trump a second time

Focus shifts to Senate, where McConnell has signaled he may not stand by president

Most Read