Some States Clicking “Maybe”

I’m a little late to the party on this, but Monday’s NYTimes had an article discussing states’ tentativeness about applying for the second round of RtTT.  California, for example:

“There’s a serious conversation going on here about whether it makes sense to put all that time and effort in again to reapply,” said Rick Miller, who as deputy schools superintendent led California’s first-round Race to the Top effort.

In some ways, I liken this to clicking “Maybe” in response to an Evite.  Some states – I’m sure – are having a nuanced debate, weighing their likeliness of winning against the amount of work required to rewrite an application.  Other states are probably conducting a more strategic “hemming and hawing” process, whereby they signal some level of frustration to the department.  Or, in the Evite construct, looking to see who else is going to the party and if there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll have a good time.*

Either way, it’s obviously each state’s prerogative whether or not to apply (cue Bobby Brown).  That said, it’s hard to see why a state that was close in round one, which now has a whole truckload of feedback, would opt not to participate.  It’s hard to justify leaving large sums of money on the table in tough budget times.  Moreover, it signals a lack of seriousness about the plan itself.  The strongest states made the case that the contours of the RtTT plan would be the contours of their statewide reform strategy writ large.  Is reform not important now that we’re in the second round?

*It took every bit of restraint to keep that clean.

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One Response to Some States Clicking “Maybe”

  1. L. Howell says:

    Each year a new season starts in sports. There’s spring training for baseball, two a day practices in football, exhibition games in basketball and so forth. Every team starts with the idea of winning a championship, no matter how bad the outcome of their previous season.

    As I read this post, I put myself in the shoes of a state superintendent of schools and ask the fundamental question as driven by the criteria on which the proposals are scored: “can we win a championship in education for the people in my state”? In the consulting industry, we call this moment of truth bid or no-bid decisions on the likelihood that we can be competitive and actually win new work.

    What makes things extremely problematic for the Department of Education is the idea of accelerating change using one of the four models with all the money in the world is simply too unwieldy to achieve broad-scale change. In other words, “spend the money fast”, which we have heard from officials and do so within these parameters. What happens when the money is gone? Will there be practices that are sustainable and affordable? What happens if performance is great with 50% of schools in Tennessee and the other 50% can’t quite get it together? Will this mean that half the $500 million was a good investment and the other half is waste?

    Here’s a thought, what if only a handful of states re-apply and of those that do apply, one or two wins? What will happen with the remaining money? More important, just like those coaches and team owners, and in this case the President, will they want to continue with this strategy if states and thus the country are not winners? This becomes a high-risk proposition as we near mid-term elections and rolling into the 2012 elections for sure. It just might be time for a mid-season course correction in terms of how the Race to the Top funds are administered and accounted for. We will know for sure in June when round two applications are due.

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