Editor’s Note: This post was written by JaiCe Stinton
Race to the Top (RTTT) was a signature education reform under the Obama administration, which was funded by another act called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. ARRA set aside roughly $5 billion for the U.S Secretary of Education to control and distribute what they deemed necessary. RTTT was a new reform that was supposed to fill the holes of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and reverse the sanctions that underachieving schools received. RTTT was designed to stimulate competition between states and schools to receive grants from the federal government by increasing standardization, centralization and test-based accountability. The four key areas of reform were to develop rigorous standards, create better data systems to evaluate student and teacher progress, reward effective teachers and improve low-achieving schools. However, this reform is considered a legislative failure due to three main reasons: the fragmented and decentralized education system, the newness of federal involvement in education with an increase in political opposition, and weak state and federal administrative capabilities.
Within the last twenty years, there have been several pushes for education reform that have left some states stratified. Some states were unable to make the changes that Obama’s reform required because they lack the staff and money, while other states were able to adapt quickly and receive the grants. For example, Massachusetts has always had high education standards and they only got better as these reforms came into play. However, 98% of the country’s schools are not in Massachusetts and most are struggling to pick up their grades and/or education system as a whole. Thus, some states were more developed in their education programs and received most of the grants, but parts of the country could not meet the new regulations and were left behind.
The federal government has constantly been criticized for getting involved in education policies. President Clinton and President Bush first brought local district standards to state driven and national testing. Tons of money was dedicated to these reforms, even after there were no improvements in grades over sixteen years. Several groups have bucked the federal government for becoming an overreaching school board. Critics, such as Diane Ravitch and Peter Greene, have denounced the standardized tests and excess funding for failed projects. One thing they highlight, that not many others do, is the money that companies make off of these federal reforms. Companies, like Mathematica, make millions by creating these standardized tests and receive money from foundations, such as the Gates Foundation, for their work.
Weak federal and state administrations are similar to the fragmented structure of the education system. One of the reasons why both administrations are weak is the “50/14,000/130,000” problem. There are 50 states with 14,000 school districts and 130,000 schools. No federal or state government could implement and enforce all of the rules and stipulations that are in any reform. Most schools have to rate their own teachers, which leads to falsified grades. For example, a Florida area scored a perfect 100% on teacher ratings, which was met with skepticism and investigated. There was also controversy over which states were receiving the grants. Some people thought that the Obama Administration was handing out hefty grants to those states that were critical to Obama’s policy agenda.
There were also some secondary reasons why this legislation failed to pass Congress. Although there was a Democratic Congress and president, education reform is one of those issues that cause factions within a party. There were deep intraparty and interparty divisions which separated both parties to where there was no clear majority. According to the informal “Hastert Rule,” a bill will only be brought up if the “majority of the majority” supported it, thus once the bill was sent to committee, it was dead. Another reason why Congress did not produce this bill out of committee, was possibly because the Secretary of the Department of Education was granted this money through another act, which meant that Congress did not need to approve the legislation. Obama’s administration simply sent Congress the guidelines as to how they were going to spend the money. The Race to the Top bill was to make a general guideline or layout to explain where the money was going.