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Race to the Top’s Impact

How Well Is the Program Working?

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On March 26 the Center for American Progress hosted an event looking at the progress and challenges of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top, or RTT, initiative. This program was created to help states and school districts close achievement gaps and better prepare students for higher education and the job market. At the event, CAP Senior Fellow Ulrich Boser unveiled his new report, “Race to the Top: What Have We Learned from the States So Far?,” which looks at the performance of states that received the RTT grants.

In his welcoming remarks, Tom Perriello, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said:

The global economy we face today [requires] a level of creativity and innovation within our education system, one that we believe that our principals, our teachers, and our parents are up to if we create the incentives and the opportunities for that kind of innovation to take place.

Perriello mentioned the more than $4.35 billion the administration has so far invested in Race to the Top and said:

It was part of a bigger effort to invest in critical sectors while supporting innovation and an understanding that too many of our students were leaving high school either ill-prepared for college or the modern workforce. Race to the Top aimed to change that, by sparking reform and creating the conditions for greater innovation.

Boser then discussed the findings in his new report. He said that CAP “wanted to engage and dig into Race to the Top. We wanted to find out what was working, what was not working, and see what lessons could be learned from what states have done so far.” Although he cautioned that the report is neither summative nor exhaustive, Boser said that “Race to the Top has advanced the reform agenda … [and] has done a lot to move forward” the application of Common Core State Standards, a set of new and more rigorous academic standards that are internationally benchmarked.

“A lot of states have developed specific training and professional development opportunities around the Common Core,” Boser said. “We’ve also seen a lot of movement around new teacher evaluations.”

All states involved in RTT are somehow involved with “new teacher-evaluation systems,” and many are working toward meeting the goals that they’ve set for themselves within the program.

“At the same time,” Boser said, “there are some states that have struggled to keep up momentum.” He discussed some of these states’ problems and recommended further improvements and the continued and valuable involvement of the Department of Education.

A panel discussion followed Boser’s presentation. Moderated by CAP Vice President for Education Policy Cynthia G. Brown, the panel included Boser; Francine Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers; Lillian M. Lowery, secretary of education for the state of Delaware; and Joanne Weiss, chief of staff for the Department of Education.

Lawrence said “The report is about policy enactment, not practice and implementation. And we know that implementation is absolutely the key if Race to the Top is going to succeed. … any education reform, Race to the Top included, has to be about what happens in the classrooms, with teachers, and with students.”

Weiss agreed, saying “It’s really all about implementation. In the end, the program is a success or not a success depending on whether we’re really successful with the kids in each of these states.” She discussed how the Department of Education has moved toward truly helping students—not just making sure that states with RTT grants are compliant with the program but actually helping the states meet their goals.

While Race to the Top cannot yet be called an unqualified success, many of the states involved in the program have experienced success, and it is important to consider how best to replicate and build upon that success going forward.

For more on this event, please see its event page.

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education, poverty)
202.478.6331 or apreiss@americanprogress.org

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, health care, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or tcaiazza@americanprogress.org

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues, Legal Progress, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or rrosen@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org