Analysis of Race to the Top Outcomes Applauds Contest Design, Urges Scoring Improvements

NEW YORK, NY— As the U.S. Department of Education announces a “lessons learned” review of its Race to the Top competition, a new analysis of the Obama administration’s signature reform initiative suggests that its future impact will be limited unless problems in the scoring process are addressed.

According to the analysis by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national nonprofit organization that has consistently supported Race to the Top, “the luck of the draw” played an outsized role in the second round of the competition because reviewers had too much freedom to score state applications as they chose, and because the Department of Education did not exercise its power to diverge from reviewer scores in determining winners. In the end, some states simply drew review panels that scored applications more harshly or leniently than others. TNTP’s analysis highlights concrete examples of how reviewer subjectivity, score inflation, and inconsistent scoring across applications yielded a winners’ circle that excluded some states whose proposals appeared to most closely reflect the stated goals of the program: to build consensus behind bold reform.

“Race to the Top had an incredible impact before a single penny was spent,” said Timothy Daly, President of TNTP. “It sparked dramatic policy changes in dozens of states and advanced education reform further in one year than it has come in the previous two decades combined. Yet the boldest states didn’t always win. Our analysis of the scoring is by no means intended to invalidate the accomplishments of those that won, but to ensure that Race to the Top remains credible and can continue to have a transformative impact in the future.”

The New Teacher Project’s critique follows a review of the first round results of the competition published by the organization in April 2010. In that analysis, TNTP explored many of the same challenges in the application review and scoring process and noted the potential consequences if they went unaddressed, warning that “[l]ess-deserving states could win at the expense of states truly committed to and capable of dramatic reform.”

“The Department of Education has made clear that it will conduct a review of its competitive grant programs this winter,” noted Daly. “This is the perfect opportunity to take a hard look at the Race to the Top scoring process and address these problems. Without better scoring guidance and controls designed to produce more consistent outcomes, it will be a tough sell to get states to take the political risks necessary to advance bold reform plans. On the other hand, if the Department outlines some practical fixes, we believe Race to the Top has a bright future.”

The full policy brief is available here.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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