And the (RttT) winners are…

In a previous post, I bemoaned the list of Race to the Top Nominees:

Today, we have our winners – Delaware and Tennessee. Here’s my own summary of where these states stand on a number of key indicators. See previous post for discussion.

A helpful colleague offered the following summary bullet points for the above table (which I just didn’t have time to do myself when I first posted this). It’s a little hard to quote a table, so here’s the bottom line:

  • Delaware is dead last in the nation in terms of its effort to fund public education, despite that state having the nation’s greatest fiscal capacity (largest per capita GDP).
  • Delaware is also dead last in the nation in terms of its public schools serving school-aged kids:  21% of its school-aged kids do not attend the public schools.
  • Tennessee is ranked 4th from last in states’ efforts to fund public education.  Tennessee is also among the lowest scoring states on the NAEP assessments.
    • (“Effort” is here defined as state and local spending relative to state fiscal capacity, with “fiscal capacity” measured as per capita GDP.)

So then, who cares? or why should we? Many have criticized me for raising these issues, arguing “that’s not the point of RttT.  It’s (RttT)not about equity or adequacy of funding, or how many kids get that funding. That’s old school – stuff of the past – get over it! This…  This is about INNOVATION! And RttT is based on the ‘best’ measures of states’ effort to innovate… to make change… to reach the top!”

My response is that the above indicators measure Essential Pre-Conditions! One cannot expect successful innovation without first meeting these essential preconditions.  If you want to buy the “business-minded” rhetoric of innovation, which I wrote about here , you also need to buy into the reality that the way in which businesses achieve innovation also involves investment in both R&D and production (coupled with monitoring production quality). You can have all of the R&D and quality monitoring systems in the world, but if you go cheap on production and make a crappy product – you haven’t gotten very far.  On average, it does cost more to produce higher quality products.

This also relates to my post on common standards and the capacity to achieve them. It’s great to set high standards, but if don’t allocate the resources to achieve those standards, you haven’t gotten very far! It costs more to achieve high standards than low ones. Tennessee provides a striking example in the maps from this post! (their low spending seems generally sufficient to achieve their even lower outcome standards!)

That in mind, should states automatically be disqualified from RttT for doing so poorly on these Essential Preconditions? Perhaps not. After all, these are states which may need to race to the top more than others (assuming the proposed RttT strategies actually have anything to do with improving schools). But, for states doing so poorly on key indicators like effort and overall resources, or even the share of kids using the public school system, those states should at least have to explain themselves – and show how they will do their part to rectify these concerns.



  1. This is an important perspective, Bruce and I hope your views get widely disseminated. With you permission, I’d like to post this on our website.
    Serious movement toward funding equity and adequacy should be a requirement not only for future RTTT competitions, but also for future ESEA/NCLB funding.
    Here’s what I recently wrote on the subject:

    Editorial: USDOE Position on ESEA: Weak on Equity and Adequacy
    Michael A. Rebell

    Last month, the U.S. Department of Education issued a position paper on re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The “Blueprint for Reform,” would eliminate the unachievable requirement that 100% of the students in the country be proficient in challenging state standards by 2014 as well as the unworkable system of adequate yearly progress testing requirements to which it has been tied. The administration’s revisions would build on the four reform priorities of the federal stimulus act ( effective teachers, higher standards, better data systems and turning around low performing schools), drop the school transfer and private tutoring provisions and encourage the development of community schools and student access to comprehensive services such as health and after-school and summer programming.

    In one area, however, the document is totally deficient: it provides no mechanism for assuring that high need schools will have the resources they need to overcome achievement gaps and reach the Obama administration’s newly stated goal, that by 2020 the United States will once again lead the world in college completion.

    The Blueprint devotes one feeble paragraph to equity and adequacy issues, stating that:

    “To give every student a fair chance to succeed, and give principals and teachers the resources to support student success, we will call on school districts and states to take steps to ensure equity, by such means as moving toward comparability in resources between high-and low-poverty schools.”

    Unlike most of the other proposals in the document, this vague equity provision lacks meaningful substantive content and is not framed in terms of any requirements or incentives that would induce states and school districts to take this need seriously. Although pressing states to ensure adequate and equitable funding for all schools would be politically difficult, the fact is that federal aid still represents only about 10% of total education spending and without adequate state resources low achieving schools will not have the capacity to turn themselves around and to reach rigorous achievement goals.

    In order to provide meaningful educational opportunity to all children and overcome achievement gaps, a re-authorized ESEA ( and future federal stimulus or Race to the Top or other incentive programs ) need to contain provisions that require each state to:

    a. Articulate its concept of a “sound basic education” and (i) demonstrate that its current education finance system provides all students a meaningful opportunity to obtain a “sound basic education” or (ii) set out the steps they intend to take, with the assistance of federal funding, to ensure that their education finance system makes significant progress toward providing all students a meaningful opportunity to obtain such an education.

    b. Submit at least every three years a cost analysis that provides reasonable estimates of the amount of funds needed to provide all students a meaningful opportunity to obtain a “sound basic education.”

    c. Set forth specific indicators for assessing the extent to which state education systems are providing all students a sound basic education by ensuring the equitable distribution of sufficient educational resources, including, but not limited to, effective teachers, principals, and other personnel.

    d. Require states to demonstrate the extent to which their current education finance system allocates available funding in an equitable manner between and within local school districts as demonstrated by the relationship between district funding and local property wealth and/or income wealth. To the extent that inequities exist, states should be required to specify the steps they will take, with the assistance of federal funding, to reduce differences in the range of per-pupil spending among school districts and among schools within the district.

    e. Require states to submit transparent, comprehensible periodic reports that demonstrate through clear and consistent criteria the progress they are making toward meeting the above adequacy and equity goals.

    National Access Network, Teachers College, Columbia University. Copyright 2001-2008.

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