Is the Race to the Top A Race to the Bottom?
Race to the Top funding has helped create some success stories in Delaware's public school system. But this race has also presented its share of hurdles, including a morale problem among the state's teachers. Now the one-time cash infusion is running out.
(page 4 of 15)
It is widely agreed that the work of Vision 2015—a coalition of leaders in government, business and education that had already made some strides with its own reform plan—helped the state win the grant. Vision 2015’s goal is to help the system “regain the competitiveness that students will need to succeed in a 21st century world economy.”
Now, it was time for Vision 2015 to join the Race. The general targets of the two, in terms of goals and identification of the key movers of education reform, are similar. They focus on areas like higher curriculum standards, improved early learning, and better quality teachers and leaders. The primary difference is that the Race has teeth, in that it demands accountability. States and districts signed contracts that stated what they were to accomplish, such as revising the teacher evaluation system to tie student growth to a teacher’s performance.
Paul Herdman, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware and a founding member of Vision 2015, says the Race injected much-needed funding into the Vision 2015 reform plan.
“It was a good catalyst for keeping us going and sort of taking it to the next level,” he says. “If we look back at that original set of ideas that were released [through Vision 2015, originally called Vision 2012] in 2006 … we’ve done an internal analysis here, and about 70 percent of the big ideas that we put forward have actually gotten moving, and much of that is because of Race to the Top.”
The Race, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, focuses on four key areas: standards and assessments, data systems, effective teachers and leaders, and low-performing schools. The goal is to encourage “states to achieve significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, and improving high school graduation rates; and ensuring students are prepared for success in college and careers.”
Delaware’s original goals, stated in its Race application, include: “More than half of the state’s students will be proficient or advanced on the National Assessment of Educational Progress; the achievement gap will decrease by 50 percent no later than the 2014-2015 school year; all students will meet state standards; graduation rates will rise; and more students will enter and be successful in college.”