Race to the Top (RTTT)

The Race to the Top fund (RTTT) was initiated in 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The brainchild of President Barack Obama and education secretary Arne Duncan, Race to the Top was formulated as a contest in which states could compete for extra federal grant money to fund their schools in the midst of the Recession.

Determined to avoid the pitfalls of President Bush’s education initiative, No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration stated that RTTT was “designed to spur systemic reform and embrace innovative approaches to teaching and learning in America’s schools.”

In order to have a chance at part of the $4.35 billion RTTT grant, each state was required to submit an application explaining their plans for reform. Favorable reforms included the adoption of standards and assessments, plans for academic achievement gains, and plans for acquiring and keeping good teachers.

The competition enjoyed some bipartisan support, and as a result, many state legislatures quickly passed a variety of school reform legislation in order to have a chance at the grant money. Legislation was often charter school friendly and also tied teacher evaluations to student achievement.

In all, forty states plus the District of Columbia ended up applying for the contest. Of these, only two – Delaware and Tennessee – won the first round.

These results were a bit of a surprise, particularly since other states besides these two seemed to have a stronger education reform plan. This raised accusations of the judging process being more subjective and political than it was made out to be, especially since some of the winning applications were heavier on support from teacher unions than they were on serious academic reform. States which didn’t win were encouraged to reapply, and eventually 10 more states collected prize money.

Although support for RTTT was initially favorable, opinions on the subject began to sour even before the grants were awarded. Some states dropped out of the competition because it was too hard to get unions and legislatures to agree to a plan. The state of Texas refused to take part in the competition, declaring that the grant was so small that any money the state might win would not even cover implementation costs.

A major objection to RTTT, however, was the fact that it would bring more federal government involvement into education, an area normally overseen by individual states. The encouragement to adopt academic standards - such as the Common Core curriculum - to gain points for the contest especially appears to usurp local education decisions. As the National Education Association protestingly noted, this type of “top-down approach” to education had been tried before and failed miserably.

Several years after the initial RTTT contest, the U.S. Department of Education announced a new form of the program, this time aimed directly at local school districts. To some individuals, this fact simply underscored the idea of federal government overreach in local education.

The hopes and fears for Race to the Top will probably not be fully realized until program implementation is complete and the results have been studied. Small glimpses along the way, however, show a mixed bag. On the one hand, some states are successfully implementing their goals and reform efforts. On the other hand, some states are finding that their plans were far too ambitious to implement and too contentious to gain broad support.

An official study has been commissioned on the effects of RTTT (to the tune of nearly $20 million) and will be released in 2015. This library section provides a variety of commentary pieces and other documents to enable you to form your own verdict on the Race to the Top program.

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Commentary or Blog Post

"I asked Fulton County high school teacher Jordan Kohanim to write a piece about what she wanted for her students this year. Jordan joined forces with fellow Centennial High School English teachers Larken McCord and Cathy Rumfelt to write a powerful letter about their goals for their students and for all students. School resumes in Fulton County on Monday

Here is their combined effort....

According to Dan Lips, Race to the Top is an undesirable program which only serves to increase the federal government's role in local education. Lips argues that RTTT is causing states to immerse themselves in...

In this piece, the author raises the question of Race to the Top's legality. According to Whitehurst, many of the reform-minded policies RTTT encourages are not constitutionally compatible with other laws governing the nation's education policies....

Following Arne Duncan's announcement of Race to the Top's first round finalists, many pundits were surprised at the lack of depth and rigor that the winners exhibited. Rick Hess believes the education secretary made a severe mistake in using overblown rhetoric to promote the contest's...

In referring to Race to the Top's track record, Neil McCluskey notes that "[t]he first thing one notices is that RTTT isn't about bold change." McCluskey then proceeds to slam Arne Duncan for calling RTTT a "success," when in fact the RTTT solidarity and agreement...

"Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education announced a second Race to the Top competition for school districts. Districts with ideas for improving education (with a focus on personalized learning) can compete for $120 million in grants. Education Next asked three experts, Andy Smarick, Paul Peterson and Michael Horn, for their initial responses to the annoucement, and in particular...

Upon the announcement that President Obama was setting aside over four billion dollars to improve education through Race to the Top, the Wall Street Journal made the observation that "the public school establishment is no longer going to be...

In this piece, Rick Hess questions the wisdom and merits of Obama's Race to the Top reviewer selection. Although the Race to the Top program was touted as a transparent initiative, Hess opines that the secret identities of the reviewers and their backgrounds pose a potential conflict...

As the title implies, this piece suggests that Race to the Top is quickly following the footsteps of No Child Left Behind. The authors lay out several reasons why NCLB was a failure, and then draw parallels between it and RTTT. According to Hess and Petrilli...

In the eyes of Neal McCluskey, President Obama's Race to the Top program has hardly done anything besides increasing the federal government's grip on state education policies. McCluskey labels RTTT the "bribe-to-the-top scheme," noting that once RTTT initiatives such...

According to Rick Hess, the several billion dollars spent on Race to the Top was "poorly spent." Hess notes that a variety of discrepancies exist between the states that won federal dollars and those that did not. Interestingly enough, the states with winning applications commonly had...

Following the selection of RTTT's phase two winners, a variety of education experts weighed in on the results. These experts expressed surprise over some of the RTTT winners due to their past reform records...

Despite the billions of dollars available to state education funds through Race to the Top, many states are hesitating to get on the bandwagon. One of the main reasons for this lack of enthusiasm is the fact that the RTTT application process is long and complicated. Rachel Sheffield...

"It might be easier for everyone concerned if Minnesota employed Sherlock Holmes to decipher the clues contained in the federal Race to the Top funding rubric. He'd sift through the Department of Education's guidelines and tell everyone how 'elementary' the criterion of 'Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals' was.

As is, the amateur detectives at the state...

Although many states originally fought to earn federal education money through Race to the Top, many states are now giving up on the process. Lindsey Burke attributes this turn of events to the lack of agreement between teachers unions and state governments and the increasing push...

"After a flurry of leaked announcements this morning, the confirmed numbers from the Department of Education on today’s winners of Phase 2 of Race to the Top are in."

"The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday invited districts nationwide to begin applying for the latest batch of high-profile federal school-reform grants.

Individual school districts will be able to seek about $120 million in 'Race to the Top' federal funds. The four-year awards will range from $4 million to $30 million, depending on the population of students served. The Department...

According to Rick Hess, Race to the Top is a great program in theory, but its practice is less than praiseworthy. This piece gives a brief, but clear, overview of RTTT's original intentions and rationale. The article then goes on to describe what some of the state applications proposed...

According to David Brooks, education is one area where President Obama is able to effectively speak on and do something about. Brooks praises Obama's Race to the Top program as a tough reform plan which will move schools toward the improvements they so desperately need. In the eyes of Brooks, "[w]e're not close to reaching the educational Promised Land, but we may...

After the first round of Race to the Top, many commentators noted the large role that union support played in the winning applications. This fact caused many RTTT phase two applicants to garner support from their own local teacher unions....

Expressing incredulous surprise over the rapid reform movement that Race to the Top spawned, Joe Williams proceeds to list a variety of education initiatives that different states were in the process of implementing in 2009. Among other things, these reforms included...

"Updated teacher evaluations are a key facet of the Obama Administration's "Race to the Top" school reform agenda. Schools across the country have implemented new methods of teacher evaluation in order to garner some portion of the $4.35 billion in education grants attached to the program. The new evaluations rate teachers based on a combination of student academic progress, as measured by...

Chart or Graph

These two charts seek to demonstrate the variability of the Race to the Top competition as described below.

This chart shows the projected and actual scores of the sixteen round one finalists. The difference in these rankings leads Daniel Bowen to believe that there were "other factors" involved in determining the winners of Race to the Top."

Race to the Top Award Amount by State.

An evaluation of the states on Race to the Top implementation.

Rank and scores of the states for the Federal Department of Education Race to the Top program phase 1.

Rank and scores of the states for the Federal Department of Education Race to the Top program phase 2.

This chart demonstrates the percentage of points given to each Race to the Top category. A list of how each of these percentages is determined is below.

The winners of the Race to the Top program were determined through a 500 point judging structure. This chart breaks down the maximum point levels available for each category. As can be seen from the chart, special emphasis was placed on encouraging state reform plans to have the support of teachers and their unions.

Analysis Report White Paper

This piece describes the origins of Race to the Top by explaining the details of its source, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In addition to providing funding for Race to the Top, the ARRA set aside large amounts of money for education that could be obtained without the competition of RTTT.

This piece finds Smarick expressing his hope that the Race to the Top funds will be a vehicle for reform that actually works. Smarick believes the plan has great potential, but realizes that there are many pitfalls and hurdles to successfully getting state legislatures to implement reform.

Due to the relatively close scoring of phase one Race to the Top applicants, William Peterson and Richard Rothstein determined to examine whether or not some of the contest's subjective judging made a difference. Their findings suggest that the multiple point system and weighting structure were somewhat unfairly contrived.

The results of the Race to the Top grant contest have been puzzling to many analysts due to the fact that many reform-minded states were passed over in the final selection process. This report analyzes whether or not important 2010 election races had anything to due with the Race to the Top winners.

This report examines the sixteen finalists from Race to the Top's first phase. Drawing on quotations from the applications and reviewers notes, the authors of this piece seek to discover how drastic the reform proposals really were and whether or not the review process was fair and accurate.

This report looks at the states which won grant money through Race to the Top to see how well their reform promises are being fulfilled. Many states are on track, but several are experiencing difficulties in meeting and implementing their goals.

This report presents international reading, math, and science literacy rates and then describes how the United States compares to the rest of the world. The report also delves into achievement scores on a state by state basis in order to discover which states are "winning the real race to the top, the one measured by student achievement gains."

In this report, Andy Smarick traces the Race to the Top program from its early days of enthusiastic support to the aftermath of the first application round. According to Smarick, "declarations of the Race to the Top's revolutionary impact are both premature and drastically inflated."

Video/Podcast/Media

In this podcast, Neal McCluskey discusses the implications of the Race to the Top fund. McCluskey outlines some of the main goals of the program and notes that this plan could drive states to get under the big umbrella of federal education standards. This podcast also notes some irregularities between what the Obama administration says RTTT will aim for...

According to Neal McCluskey, Race to the Top is mostly all talk and no action. Other than stipulating that a state's application must "eliminate any barriers to teachers being evaluated based on how much their students learn," the program hardly lays down any requirements for a state to be considered for a RTTT grant. Although McCluskey seems to believe that RTTT...

One of the states that came out strongly against the Race to the Top fund was Texas. In this video, Governor Rick Perry explains the rationale behind Texas's rejection of RTTT grants. According to Perry, Texas has a better understanding of how to educate its children than the bureaucrats in Washington do.

One of the Department of Education's most recent ventures concerns a program entitled "Race to the Top." In this video, President Obama describes the details behind this program and the role the federal government will play in implementing it. According to the President, it is the duty of all Americans, particularly those in leadership positions like the presidency...

This video describes the planning and preparation that went into the Race to the Top application process. RTTT director, Joanne Weiss, hopes that the program will encourage states to implement serious reforms. Although RTTT is enthusiastically greeted by many, others, including teachers, are skeptical and worried about what the implications could mean for their own...

Although only a recent addition to the Department of Education, the Race to the Top program has defined President Obama's first term with respect to education policy. In this video, Joanne Weiss, the Director of Race to the Top, offers a concise explanation of the program.

Primary Document

This document provides an excerpt of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The excerpt specifically pertains to the funds under the authority of the Department of Education, some of which were allotted to the Race to the Top program.

"U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced today that Delaware and Tennessee have won grants in the first phase of the Race to the Top competition."

In this document, "The Secretary of Education... announces priorities, requirements, definitions, and selection criteria for the Race to the Top Fund." According to the introduction, "[t]he Race to the Top program, [is] a $4.35 billion fund created under the American...

"The Obama Administration is committed to reforming America's public schools to provide every child access to a complete and competitive education. President Obama recently presented states with an unprecedented challenge and the opportunity to compete in a 'Race to the Top' designed to spur systemic reform and embrace innovative approaches to teaching and learning in America's schools....

"The Race to the Top – District competition invites applicants to demonstrate how they can personalize education for all students in their schools. The Race to the Top – District competition is aimed squarely at classrooms and the all-important relationship between educators and students. An LEA or consortium of LEAs receiving an award under this competition will build on the experience of...

This letter provides state governors with information on the winners of Race to the Top's second phase. According to Duncan, 10 states effectively revamped their applications in order to meet the criteria that RTTT judges were looking for. Secretary Duncan also mentions his hope that the RTTT program will continue in 2011.

This letter to education secretary Arne Duncan explains the reasons why Texas did not participate in the Race to the Top competition. According to Governor Rick Perry, the state of Texas seeks to maintain high academic standards in its public...

"On August 21, the National Education Association submitted comments to the Department of Education regarding Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion grant intended to reward innovation in education."

This letter contains some of the NEA's applause and concern over the contest.

This fact sheet addresses questions about applying for Race to the Top funds.

This document provides the Education Department's official details and instructions concerning Race to the Top. Besides touching on the background of the program, this piece gives state education administrators details on the application process, reform...

In this speech, President Obama touts his Race to the Top education plan. President Obama describes how the program was started, and then proceeds to explain the four main goals that his administration hopes to achieve...

According to Race to the Top's director, Joanne Weiss, the "intent... [of] Race to the Top is to provide a significant amount of funding to support the most promising reform plans in the country for the States that have the best shot at executing these plans well...

After receiving the applications for phase one of Race to the Top, Arne Duncan used this speech to announce the sixteen states which made it to the final round. Duncan explained how the finalists were chosen and also described how other states could reapply for the...

In this speech to attendees at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lays out several key education reform goals of the Obama administration. Central to the Obama education plan is the Race to the Top program. Duncan declares...

In March of 2010 Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Delaware and Tennessee were the winners of Race to the Top's phase 1 grants. According to Duncan, these states were chosen because "[t]hey made commitments to raise their standards. They have strong...

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