Race to the Top Spreading Beyond, but Not Within, Ed

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Ezra Klein adds some great insight that directly relates to one of my previous posts about the shift from traditional education formula grant programs (think Title I) to more competitive funding models (think Race to the Top) in the Obama administration’s FY12 budget request.

Klein reports that the administration’s two big theories of action are

  • Connecting funding to evidence, as modeled by the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant program’s three-tiered approach: development, validation, scale up.
  • Connecting funding to systemic reforms, as modeled by Race to the Top, a competitive grant program in which, to qualify for funds, states must submit a reform plan and pass it through their state legislatures.

Klein expounds on what makes Race to the Top such an attractive approach to funding:

… it proved so highly “leveraged.” Only 12 states actually got grants. But more than 40 states adopted a common set of K–12 standards. Dozens more lifted the caps on charter schools and agreed to more rigorous teacher evaluation programs. The money and the competition proved effective at breaking the political logjams that had frustrated reformers, giving them the momentum to pass their packages through state legislatures. And even if a state didn’t end up getting the money, it still kept the reforms it had passed while trying to get the money.

Klein goes on to note that the Race to the Top approach to funding is moving beyond education: “There are Race to the Tops everywhere [in the FY12 budget].”

Yet while this approach started in education and may be spreading beyond—within education, it’s still just limited to K–12 general education. For example, three White House budget cycles later and no Race to the Top equivalent for higher education? “Sclerotic bureaucracies,” if ever there were ones. And I’m not sure competitive funding lends itself to such a legally bound program like IDEA.