July 27, 2009

Talking turkey on "Race to the Top"

The hoopla surrounding the draft "Race to the Top" guidelines have obscured the long-game strategy involved here. If you think about the structure of the funds--more discretionary money than the U.S. Department of Education has ever had before, competitive grant system, and a set of priorities that the Duncan department has been signaling for six months--there are two guesses I have about the broader goals:

  1. The double-shot of grants over the next year is intended to be the first of two or three shots of large amounts of discretionary money for the department.
  2. Duncan's learned about vicarious reinforcement and intends to use it here.

The obvious initial "winners" will be states such as Florida which have a number of the required elements in place and are ready to go on a few payoff projects. But there will also be a few very large states left in the cold (and without that extra funding) after these first two rounds of awards. What if California is one of those states out in the cold? Or New York? There will be local pressure from school boards and administrators on members of Congress to continue feeding money to the department until their states land at least one award.

In the long game, the fact that Race to the Top can't bail California out is not really the issue, and I disagree with Mike Klonsky's assumption that this is an attempt to starve the states into submission. While I think a number of people would have preferred a larger ARRA stimulus fund, I don't think you can claim that the Obama administration has acted at all as if it wants thousands of teachers fired. Far more likely is the ordinary political dynamics of federal programs: no one wants to be without a slice of the pie. For these reasons, if it were legal to place a bet of this kind, I'd give rather interesting odds that California loses out big in the first two swats at Race to the Top money. 

And speaking of misdirected Mikes, Mike Antonucci is wrong about the teachers union dynamics in Race to the Top. While my higher-ed local has both the AFT and NEA as affiliates, I'm generally out of the loop on national headquarters stuff, but I can see the writing on the wall: one of the unions may well push in the regulatory process to increase the leverage of state affiliates, not to eliminate the requirement on linkability of teachers to student data. The best thing that the national affiliates can do is help state affiliates' negotiating position with their own state departments of education. If two states' applications are similar, but only one has a letter of support from their state affiliate's (or affiliates') elected officers, both the NEA and AFT need the state with union support in the application to have an advantage. (There are some interesting dynamics here vis-a-vis merged state affiliates, but the larger incentive at the national level is to help all state affiliates.)

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Posted in Education policy on July 27, 2009 1:34 PM |