On sober, morning-after reflection, let me say this about Race to the Top. Arne Duncan deserves at least a B for initiating and persevering with it. With a relatively small (by federal standards) amount of money, he has catalyzed a large amount of worthwhile education-reform activity in a great many places. And the directions in which he has bribed the system to move are important directions to move in. This wouldn’t have happened without the program’s competition-style design, with states vying for (relatively) scarce money. (It helped, of course, that states and districts are desperate for money!)
But determining the outcome of a high-profile grants competition is a tricky, risky undertaking. Had the Duncan team opted to use their own judgment, the outcome might have been better in terms of who won, but he would have been accused of playing mid-term-election politics and surely the White House (and influential Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the statehouses) would have inserted themselves into that process. Meaning that the outcome might not have been better.
(photo credit: Cindy Seigle)