Duncan Hears Complaints About "Race" Process
|Date Posted: April 15, 2010|
WASHINGTON, April 14 — Even as the second round of competition under Race to the Top (RTT) opens (see below), one senator today criticized the approach the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is taking to choose which states will get a share of the remaining $3.4 billion and said that it had to be "changed."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., lashed out at ED Secretary Arne Duncan, who was testifying on ED's budget before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, saying she was "completely confused" by the RTT process, a competitive program funding state education reform.
The department, in choosing Delaware and Tennessee as the only two state winners under the first round — out of 40 states plus the District of Columbia that applied — has come under criticism by some for only selecting states that could get all school districts and all teachers' union members on board with the reform plan, a feat that critics argue is not possible in many states.
"Why are we going to insist that if you can't get every school board and every county stepped up, your state can't try with the counties that are ready to go and are willing to take the risk?" Landrieu asked the secretary.
Duncan commended Louisiana for its efforts to drive reforms thus far and urged the state to submit an application for round two, due June 1. But broad stakeholder support with "watereddown reform" is not what ED wants to support, Duncan said. "Bold reform matters."
Landrieu interrupted him. "Nothing in our application was watered down," she said. "The problem is that if you push to get everyone there, you will give us no choice but to water down [our plans]. In other words, half of something strong is better than 100 percent of something that is weak and watered down." She said she thought that "many members" of the Senate were "absolutely taken back at the posture of this department."
Duncan persisted. The two state winners, Duncan said, were able to do both — gain broad support for bold reform — and there is a "real opportunity" for "10 or 15" more states — "whatever the magic number," he said — to succeed in the next round.
Landrieu, clearly frustrated, said there is also a "real opportunity" for small numbers of unions and school board members who don't want to participate in RTT to hold up progress for those that do. "This is going to have to be changed, in my view," she added.
While a single member of Congress may not be able to change the department's selection process for round-two RTT applications, Landrieu or another member could attach conditions to any part of the $1.35 billion in RTT money the department is requesting for FY 2011. Lawmakers could also decide to end the entire program by not funding it at all for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, 2010.
— Erika Fitzpatrick
Race to the Top — Second Round
Program: Race to the Top (round two).
Purpose: To encourage and reward states that create conditions for education innovation and reform. States
have to meet an "absolute" priority to "comprehensively and coherently" address all four of the following education reform areas:
- Adopt internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
- Build data systems that measure student success and help teachers and principals improve practices;
- Increase teacher effectiveness and achieve equity in teacher distribution; and
- Turn around the lowest achieving schools.
Funding: $3.4 billion, which was provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. States can request from $20 million to a maximum of $700 million, depending on their size. No awards will be made for more than $700 million, officials say.
Number of Awards: ED does not say how many grant awards there will be in this round, although ED Secretary Arne Duncan alluded to a set of "10 or 15" possible state winners for the next round (see story, above).
Deadlines: A notice of intent to apply is due May 4 with final proposals due June 1. An application workshop is April 21.
Contacts: The Federal Register notice is online at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-8376.htm; additional information is at this ED page: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html.