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News from EPI New Report Examines Realities of Race to the Top Implementation: Failure to address root causes of achievement gaps and mismatches between states’ goals and their resources have hindered educational improvements

Race to the Top has done little to help most states close achievement gaps, and may have exacerbated them, according to a new report by Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education. In Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Educational Improvement: Lack of Time, Resources, and Tools to Address Opportunity Gaps Puts Lofty State Goals Out of Reach, Weiss takes a comprehensive look at the Obama administration’s signature education initiative, and finds a few notable successes but many more shortcomings.

Race to the Top offered federal funding to states that committed to meeting a series of goals—including developing new teacher evaluation systems that rely substantially on student achievement, identifying alternative teacher certification systems, turning around low-performing schools, and substantially boosting student achievement and closing achievement gaps. In her report, Weiss examines how much progress states have made over the first three years of the grant period. With a year to go before funding is scheduled to end, states are largely behind schedule in meeting goals for improving instruction and educational outcomes.

“This report should be a wake-up call, not only to states and districts implementing Race to the Top, but to states implementing No Child Left Behind waivers and those beginning to roll out the Common Core State Standards,” said Weiss. “Real, sustained change requires time and substantial, well-targeted resources. Raising standards in schools cannot work without accompanying supports that make attaining them possible for all students, not just the most advantaged.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • States made unrealistic promises in order to secure Race to the Top funding, and have found greater-than-expected challenges to meeting their goals.
  • The narrow policy agenda and short time frame prescribed by Race to the Top have hampered state and district abilities to improve teacher quality, while failing to address other core drivers of opportunity gaps.
  • Shortcomings in Race to the Top have spurred conflicts between states, school districts, and educators that have further hindered progress.

This report draws on studies from the U.S. Department of Education and others, state and local reporting, as well as a survey of district superintendents and interviews with parents, teachers, and state and community education leaders. The report also includes in-depth case studies of two Race to the Top states, Ohio and Tennessee. Weiss’s analysis provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the successes and challenges states have faced throughout Race to the Top and the policy implications at both the state and federal level.

“This paper details the results of careful examination of implementation of Race to the Top and whether or not it has produced the game-changing improvements proponents promised,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association. “The report represents the first comprehensive look at the program, the challenges states face in implementing grants and key implications for moving forward, and bolsters what AASA has long advocated—while Race to the Top has some positive impact on education, there are better alternative strategies for improving education, including prioritizing existing federal statutes like ESEA and IDEA, and ensuring that all students in all public schools benefit from limited federal funding. AASA applauds Broader, Bolder for its leadership on this report and we’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate on the project for the past two years.”

It is especially important to look at challenges posed by Race to the Top as states adopt and implement the Department of Education’s Common Core standards. States’ struggles to reliably and productively hold schools and teachers accountable, and to raise student achievement under the current standards, are likely to grow as demands increase while time, staffing, and other resources remain flat or are further diminished.