RttT Round 2 – Stuff that Doesn’t Matter!

Posted on August 24, 2010

Unlike many RttT enthusiasts, I have to say that I was pleased to see that Louisiana and Colorado were not among the winners. I’ve written extensively about Louisiana public schools in the past:


Although Colorado doesn’t look as bad as Louisiana on the indicators I often use on this blog, it ain’t pretty.

Using 2007-08 data, Colorado ranks:

  • 45th in effort (% gross state product spent on schools)
  • 39th in funding level overall
  • 32nd in funding fairness (has a system whereby higher poverty districts have systematically less state and local revenue per pupil than lower poverty districts)

Of course, these indicators – which I believe tell us a lot about state education systems – don’t really matter much when it comes to the big race, as I pointed out here:


Thankfully, while these indicators of actual effort to finance state school systems and participation rates in those systems didn’t matter in Round 2 either, the picks for Round 2 winners are somewhat – though not entirely – less offensive. I’ve highlighted in yellow with red type any cases where a Round 1 or 2 winner comes in 40th or lower on an indicator – Bottom 10. I’ve indicated in green with blue type, cases where states are in the Top 10. Sadly, there are far more bottom 10 cases than top 10 cases.

I would consider EFFORT and FAIRNESS to be the two key indicators here over which states have greatest control. A poor  state could put up significant effort and still not raise significant funding (Mississippi). The only Round 2 winner state with no “bad” marks and many good ones is Massachusetts. Massachusetts scores well on fairness and overall funding level. Tennessee, from Round 1 is simply a disgrace! North Carolina is perhaps the weakest link in Round 2, along with Florida which ranks poorly but avoids the bottom ten on any measure, and Hawaii which makes the bottom 10 on measures less within the control of the state – coverage. But, Hawaii has inflicted significant damage on its already struggling public schooling system in recent years.

And here are a few interesting two-dimensional views of RttT Round 1 and Round 2 states. First, here’s a two-dimensional view of educational effort and spending level – spending for high poverty districts. The two are reasonably related. Effort explains about half of the variation in spending levels. States like North Carolina and Tennessee are low on effort and low on spending. States like Massachusetts are relatively high on spending, but average on effort.  Rhode Island, Maryland, New York, and Ohio are above average on spending and effort. But spending level doesn’t guarantee that it’s spent – or distributed – fairly across wealthier and poorer districts.

Here’s a look at “fairness” and spending level. New York is high on spending level, but not so good on fairness. In New York State, wealthy districts in Westchester County and Long Island outspend much of the rest of the nation. But, poorer districts including New York City are largely left out, spending significantly less than the affluent suburbs.  Then there are those wonderful states where higher poverty districts have slightly higher revenue per pupil than lower poverty ones, but for the most part – everyone is similarly deprived. These are the “you get nothing!” (reference to Willy Wonka in previous post) states and Tennessee tops that list! Even more depressing are the states where “you get nothing” in general, and you get less if you are poor. Those states include RttT Round 2 standout North Carolina … and Florida sits on the margin of this group. Massachusetts is the “good” standout in this figure.

And here’s effort and coverage – or the share of 6 to 16 year olds attending the public school system.  New York, Maryland and Ohio (on the margin) do poorly on coverage, but have reasonable overall effort. Delaware is the real outlier here… with very low effort and very, very low coverage. Thankfully, none in Round 2 can match Delaware!

Finally, here is the state and local revenue predicted level for high poverty districts, and NAEP mean 2009, grade 4 reading and math scores (combined).  It’s always fun to throw the outcome data in there. And in this case, the RttT Round 1 and Round 2 winners are distributed across the range. Again, Tennessee from Round 1 is the biggest “bad” outlier, but one could say that Massachusetts from Round 2 is a positive counterbalance. Clearly, the demography and economy of these two states differs significantly. My complaint with Tennessee is not that it performs poorly partly because it has a large, low-income population. Rather, my problem with Tennessee, as I’ve noted many previous times is that TN puts up little effort and spends little, and barely spends even that paltry amount equitably. In addition, as I’ve discussed previously, TN has consistently had the lowest outcome standards.

For more on Rhode Island school funding, see: https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/the-gist-twists-rhode-island-school-finance/

For more on Hawaii, see: https://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/hawaiis-funding-mess-my-thoughts-on-why/

As I noted on my previous post regarding Round 1 winners:

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.

For a video version of my comments on the big race, see:

Posted in: Race to the Top