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Chat: Scoring Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain

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 Scoring Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain(06/01/2010) 
9:26
EdWeek Producer: Jennifer: 
Today's chat, "Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain," is open for questions, please start submitting them now.

The chat itself will begin at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Thanks for joining us.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 9:26 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
3:00
Michele McNeil: 

Hi everyone. Welcome to today’s chat with journalist Steven Brill, who wrote two substantive pieces on Race to the Top recently. One in the New York Times Magazine examined the overall effect Race to the Top is having on the country's education reform dynamic, particularly on the relationship policymakers have with teachers' unions. He wrote a companion piece here at EdWeek that delved into the competition’s 500-point grading system and the peer review judging process. My name is Michele McNeil and I write about federal policy here at EdWeek, and I'll be your moderator.

Steven, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:00 Michele McNeil
3:01
Steven Brill: 
Hi. It's Steve Brill here, happy to answer any questions that I can.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:01 Steven Brill
3:01
Michele McNeil: 
Well, let's get started then. Today, by the way, is the deadline for states to submit their applications for round two of the competition, so it’s fitting that you’re joining us today. Let’s get started with the first question, from Ann.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:01 Michele McNeil
3:01
[Comment From Ann DuffyAnn Duffy: ] 
Following the interview, many states received additional points based on their response to panel questions, increasing their overall score. How important is the interview to the final selection and to the RTTT process in general?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:01 Ann Duffy
3:02
Steven Brill: 
It was important, but pretty much only on the margins. States received or lost maybe 5-10 points typically. It seems to me it should have counted for more, if the questions had been more pointed about how states could and would deliver on their promises.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:02 Steven Brill
3:03
Michele McNeil: 
To follow up on that, Steven, do you think the Round 2 interviews will be any more important than Round 1?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:03 Michele McNeil
3:04
Steven Brill: 
Perhaps they will be, in part because of the shortcomings reported vis a vis what states were promising and what their plans actually indicated they were prepared to deliver on. Also, i am told the the vetters have been re-trained, based on the experience of Round One.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:04 Steven Brill
3:06
Michele McNeil: 
Kaitlin has a great question about unions and buy-in.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:06 Michele McNeil
3:06
[Comment From KaitlinKaitlin: ] 
Do you think states that don't get buy-in from unions and districts should win awards? Would it be possible to implement a program no one supports?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:06 Kaitlin
3:07
Steven Brill: 
The DOE would argue, and Secretary Duncan has, that there is a difference between what union leaders support and what rank and file teachers support. The Secretary's position is that it would be great to have the adults all working together, but his job is to achieve reform.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:07 Steven Brill
3:08
Michele McNeil: 
Steven, just real quick, back to your previous answer on the vetters being re-trained. Any sense of how they've been re-trained? Just tweaking, or were there big changes that could affect the outcome of Round 2?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:08 Michele McNeil
3:09
Steven Brill: 
Well, they did require in the second round that any buy in that is conditional on a collective bargaining agreement being renegotiated be marked with a "C" rather than the check mark that many states used to paper over this important condition.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:09 Steven Brill
3:09
Michele McNeil: 
Steven, why don't you take Claireslise's question next.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:09 Michele McNeil
3:09
[Comment From Clairelise RodriguezClairelise Rodriguez: ] 
Wall Street Journal reported that at least 23 states have passed legislation to become more competitive in the Race to the Top. How much weight will legislation have if the reforms are weak?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:09 Clairelise Rodriguez
3:11
Steven Brill: 
Well, it'll certainly have more weight than if the reforms had not been passed, i suppose. In some respects, Secretary Duncan may think he needs to continue to encourage what he believes is progress -- which could mean giving awards to, say, ten or twelve states, even if only three or four actually have what he might consider to be the full gamut of necessary reforms. But i guess we'll see.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:11 Steven Brill
3:12
Michele McNeil: 
Your main piece in the Times Magazine talks a lot about teachers' unions, and Miguel has a question about that.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:12 Michele McNeil
3:12
[Comment From MiguelMiguel: ] 
The New York Times Magazine article attempts to examine the relationship among teachers' unions and policymakers. Yet, the nation's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association, was left completely out of the story. No quote from any NEA official. No reference to the role NEA or its affiliates have played in shaping Race to the Top. Why was NEA ommitted from the story?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:12 Miguel
3:12
Steven Brill: 
p.s an example of a relatively "weak reform" is New York's -- which still requires all kinds of negotiation over about 75-80% of the reform package. But he may rightly see it as a good start.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:12 Steven Brill
3:13
Steven Brill: 
NEA was certainly mentioned. When you're constrained for space and you have representative quotes from one of the two unions, you sometimes have to make choices. No slight intended.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:13 Steven Brill
3:14
Michele McNeil: 
We've got a couple other questions about what makes a strong Race to the Top application. Why don't you take this question from Guest first?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:14 Michele McNeil
3:14
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
What if a state uses State Board resolutions instead of actually passing new laws that show reform?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:14 Guest
3:15
Steven Brill: 
I guess that would depend if the State Board resolution is enforceable on its own terms -- ie., without a change in a statute. I believe that's the case in Delaware, which won Round One.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:15 Steven Brill
3:15
Michele McNeil: 
And Stephanie wants to know about the emphasis on performance-based pay for teachers.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:15 Michele McNeil
3:15
[Comment From StephanieStephanie: ] 
Do you have a sense of how important tying compensation to the new system of teacher evaluations will be in the round 2 scoring? Will it be possible for states to "win" without pay for performance initiatives?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:15 Stephanie
3:16
Steven Brill: 
If you look at the allocation of points, that would seem unlikely. But see my answer above to Clairelese.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:16 Steven Brill
3:17
Michele McNeil: 
S has an interesting observation. What do you think of what he/she has to say... is RTTT going in the wrong direction, at least based on your reporting?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:17 Michele McNeil
3:17
[Comment From ss: ] 
after reading diane ravitch new book i went back and read alfie kohn The schools aour children deserve 1998. I was astonished to see the similarities (20 years laer) and hope for getting education right. I really think RTTT is going in the wrong direction. Let's get the "reformation" of education back to the schools/teachers and parents...out of the hand of the more testing more charter schools ideas.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:17 s
3:18
Steven Brill: 
My job is not to agree or disagree on these broad policy questions. But i do think it is hard to argue the point that education alone should be the one endeavor where we don't encourage or account for the effectiveness of those who do it.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:18 Steven Brill
3:19
Michele McNeil: 
Guest has a question about online learning programs, but I'm wondering if you could use this question and broaden it a bit to talk about how easy it is for the public -- and journalists -- to find out information about Race to the Top?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:19 Michele McNeil
3:19
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
How can I find out which states proposed an online learning program for teachers?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:19 Guest
3:19
Steven Brill: 
p.s. I work in another profession -- journalism -- that hates to be held accountable. But editors and publishers do promote journalists based on their perception of the value of their work.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:19 Steven Brill
3:22
Steven Brill: 
Well, in one sense the program has been, as Sec Duncan told me, extremely transparent. We get to see the applications, see the ratings, even watch the in-person presentations. But, and this is a big but, we don't get to know who scored which applications on what basis. That is simply unacceptable to most journalists and should be to those who work so hard on these applications or rely so much on these programs. These are public servants spending our money (and taking up your time). We should be able to know why they say they did what they did. Joanne Weiss's comment to me that she wanted to avoid them getting harrassed is nonsense.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:22 Steven Brill
3:23
Michele McNeil: 
So along those lines, as a fellow journalist, I was interested in your EdWeek piece that sought to go "behind the curtain" into the Race to the Top scoring process. How difficult was it to really delve into the judging system? And how hard was it to get any judges to talk to you?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:23 Michele McNeil
3:25
Steven Brill: 
Most judges refused to talk because they had signed strict confidentiality agreements. But a basic rule of reporting is that if more than five or six people know something, you can get some to talk. And you should always try. I probably made 20 calls to get the two folks who did talk to me on the record (though in a limited way) to talk to me, and a few others did so on background.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:25 Steven Brill
3:26
Michele McNeil: 
Ronarae has a question along a similar line, about how the public can be involved in Race to the Top. Is there a place and a time for the public once the applications have been submitted?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:26 Michele McNeil
3:26
[Comment From Ronarae Adams, NBCTRonarae Adams, NBCT: ] 
In California, it appears that few stakeholders understood that an application was being submitted today. I had a chance to share my voice, only because I knew where to look, what to read and now to access the webmaster to get my comments forwarded to the Team Leader. I didn’t hear back, but I’ll be reading to see if my comments were integrated in any way. In this new application, how will California stakeholders have a chance to share comments with the reviewers before they begin to use their scoring rubrics? Is there a platform in place to give citizens of the state an opportunity to comment before the scoring process begins, to view the rubric against the application and appendices, and to perhaps be able to post “predicted scores” online? It would be intriguing to see how individuals rate their own state’s ability to design and implement the submitted plan in relationship to the overall desired outcome for all winners (and losers): Increased achievement for individual students in every learning environment as a result of highly effective teachers and leaders.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:26 Ronarae Adams, NBCT
3:26
Steven Brill: 
What do you mean by stakeholders? Who specifically?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:26 Steven Brill
3:27
Michele McNeil: 
Ronarae, if you're still online, could you submit a follow-up clarifying your question? And we'll come back to it.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:27 Michele McNeil
3:28
Michele McNeil: 
Let's take Marie's question next, which is a great one that speaks to how accurate a state's own application is.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:28 Michele McNeil
3:28
[Comment From MarieMarie: ] 
So the states may overstate their performance, capability to perform and/or union support. Why doesn't any part of the application seem to be independent of the state's own self-analysis?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:28 Marie
3:29
Steven Brill: 
This, to me, is a shortcoming. THe vetters ARE NOT ALLOWED to look outside the four corners of the application. However DOE says that if they don't deliver on their promises they will not get the money (which is doled out over three years and supposedly only after the implementation is delivered). But the political pressure not to withhold a check could be significant.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:29 Steven Brill
3:30
Michele McNeil: 
SuSaw has a two-part question if you can tackle both parts, Steven. And her second part speaks to this issue of accountability you just raised.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:30 Michele McNeil
3:30
[Comment From SuSawSuSaw: ] 
Since only 2 of 41 applications received funding in round one, what is the likelihood that the balance of funding will be granted in this second round? How will states be held accountable for reforms?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:30 SuSaw
3:32
Steven Brill: 
Sec Duncan told me he expects to reward all of the remaining money -- and to 10-12 winners. So there could be some relatively weak applicants that win. As for how they are held accountable, again, Secretary Duncan and Ms. Weiss told me they will have to deliver before checks are written. WHich brings up another issue: The press and political leaders have overstated the importance of the money. It is spread over three years and, therefore, won't fill any budget gap this year. Moreover, it's suppose to be paid to cover NEW reform-related expenses, NOT to cover holes in an operating budget.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:32 Steven Brill
3:34
Michele McNeil: 
And that brings up an issue I've been wondering about. The money isn't supposed to cover holes in operating budgets, but do you think savvy state legislators who are desperate for money will essentially end up doing that?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:34 Michele McNeil
3:35
Steven Brill: 
Not if the Department sticks to its regs. They really can't. Yet the press repeatedly mentions these budget gaps in the same sentence as they discuss all the prospective bounty from RTTT.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:35 Steven Brill
3:36
Michele McNeil: 

S raises the issue of whether Race to the Top style reforms might be better accomplished at the local level, versus the state level, and whether the competition should be continued at all. The Obama Administration has asked for an additional $1.35 billion to continue it. Based on your reporting, can you tackle her question?

Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:36 Michele McNeil
3:36
[Comment From ss: ] 
can you comment on the 1.35B proposal to extent RTTT to school districts (2011) and LEA's...seem like a more home grown way to go rather than state initiatives.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:36 s
3:38
Steven Brill: 
THis does seem more logical at first glance -- and it does make local officials far more accountable. But it raises a practical issue: DOE will now likely get HUNDREDS of applications, subject, i assume, to the same laborious vetting process. Who's gonna do all that?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:38 Steven Brill
3:38
Michele McNeil: 
SuSaw has a follow-up question for you.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:38 Michele McNeil
3:38
[Comment From SuSawSuSaw: ] 
thank you! What, if any, bearing does the scramble by states to change the laws, as late as Friday in the case of New York City who upped the number of charters, have on a state's ability to carry through their application objectives? Seems a bit crazy... after all, charters schools as a solution help a minority, right, not the majority. Right?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:38 SuSaw
3:41
Steven Brill: 
True, but charters are really almost a side-show to the real reform agenda required in the application. It's great theatre for New York to have changed the law at the midnight hour, and it's arguably great for the kids who would otherwise have lost out in future lotteries, but the meat of the applications and the scores has to do with systemic changes in the overall public education system, particularly with regard to finding, encouraging and holding the talent accountable. That's where New York -- which still does not allow teacher performance to be tied to compensation -- still faces its challenges.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:41 Steven Brill
3:42
Michele McNeil: 

And Charlotte has another NY-specific question for you.

Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:42 Michele McNeil
3:42
[Comment From Charlotte WhalenCharlotte Whalen: ] 
Much noise was made before the New York State senate passed the assembly's new charter law this past Friday over the supposed banning of for-profits from operating schools in the state. But on reading the legislation it's not clear to me that any substantive new restrictions on for-profit management companies have been put in place. Have you read the NY legislation yet, and if so what's your take on how it will impact the future role of for-profit charter management companies operating in NY and NYC?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:42 Charlotte Whalen
3:44
Steven Brill: 
Have not read that section yet (but will now that you raise it). Also, don't see the logic of banning the for-profits, since they do not cost taxpayers any more money -- IF they produce good results. I read where someone criticized the six figure salaries of some of the for profit operators. So what? Union leaders make six figures, too. Both have hard jobs and deserve it if they can produce results for those who pay them (and for students).
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:44 Steven Brill
3:45
Michele McNeil: 
Ronarae wrote back to clarify her question about California and the opportunity for input from stakeholders. Can you tackle her question?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:45 Michele McNeil
3:45
[Comment From RonaraeRonarae: ] 
Yes, Steven... All stakeholders include teachers, parents, administrators, ed organizations, etc... Anybody that has a stake in education should be encouraged to look more closely at the applications and scoring guide. Instead, only those who are intimately involved (MOU's) get direct communication in anticipation of what might come down the pipelines quite quickly (assurances ), which will impact ALL stakeholders in the state—not just those signing on to implement the goals. Couldn’t “transparency” include elements of the application process during the review period?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:45 Ronarae
3:46
Steven Brill: 
I think that depends on the states applying. I know the unions had that kind of input, especially with regard to MOU's. And you suggestion of broader input makes sense to me.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:46 Steven Brill
3:46
Michele McNeil: 

Moving away from Race to the Top policy for a moment, "Concerned" has a question about the reporting for your stories, especially as it relates to this topic of charter schools.

Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:46 Michele McNeil
3:47
[Comment From ConcernedConcerned: ] 
Mr Brill, given the importance of these issues and the crisis in funding for public education today, I was troubled by the unbalanced nature of your recent NYT Magazine cover story. Specifically, Where was balanced discussion of conflicting research on the diversity of the charter school movement, showing that many charter schools - even in new york - underperform district schools; that charter schools enroll significantly smaller proportions of ELL and SPED students than district schools; and that some charter schools do counsel out students, in which cases declining cohorts of students correlate powerfully with increasing test scores? Where was serious discussion from experts on both sides of the education reform divide of the inadequacy of standardized testing as a metric for evaluating student and teacher performance? Where was discussion of whether it is appropriate for the federal government - at a time when the nation's education system is in deep fiscal crisis, with the potential to cripple schools and affect students for a lifetime - to use valuable funding as a stick to spur undemocratic reforms whose effectiveness is unproven by empirical evidence rather than directing those funds to the neediest sectors?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:47 Concerned
3:52
Steven Brill: 
THe way i stepped through that debate was 1) to acknowledge clearly that not all charters schools are good for kids (didn't you see that statement?); and 2) to use a building that had two schools in it -- one a charter, one a traditional public school -- and compare expenses and results side by side. I labored over this, and think the comparison is valid FOR THOSE TWO schools. And taxpayers pay nothing extra for the school choice that these two schools provide, so i don't understand you statement that the government is using "valuable funding as a stick to spur undemocratic reforms." Choice is usually thought of as being pretty democratic. As for empirical evidence, one thing is clear, we keep spending more money than all other countries with worse results. And the charter i spent time examining spends less with better results.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:52 Steven Brill
3:53
Michele McNeil: 
Thanks, Steven. There's a lot of interest in charter schools. Let's take MOJO's question next.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:53 Michele McNeil
3:53
[Comment From MOJOMOJO: ] 
As you stated and the research supports, charters are "alomost a sideshow." With that thought in mind, why should there be any weight given to the level of state permissiveness in establishing charter schools? Overall, they have been no more effective than regular public schools.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:53 MOJO
3:54
Steven Brill: 
Well, the regs give relatively little weight to them, as i pointed out. And the weight they give is based not simply on how permissive the charter environment is but also on how well supervised the charters are and on whether they are held accountable for results.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:54 Steven Brill
3:55
Michele McNeil: 
Now for a very straight-forward question from Stephanie.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:55 Michele McNeil
3:55
[Comment From StephanieStephanie: ] 
When do you anticipate applications will be released to the public?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:55 Stephanie
3:56
Steven Brill: 
Good question. There was a lag last time, which drove me to distraction. I suspect they will get out within a week to ten days this time, maybe sooner on various state web sites.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:56 Steven Brill
3:56
Michele McNeil: 
Chris wants to know a bit more about any accountability built into Race to the Top.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:56 Michele McNeil
3:56
[Comment From ChrisChris: ] 
With regards to the money that is awarded, is there a mechanism in place within the RTTT to monitor whether the states are implementing the reforms, or "checkpoints" of some sort? This in a way seems like the feds throwing money around but with no real defined outcome at play..
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:56 Chris
3:58
Steven Brill: 
They say they have all kinds of such mechanisms in place, but it's going to be fun watching to see how this actually works out. To be fair, the outcomes, as you put it, are well defined -- in hundreds of pages of promises in the applications. So defining the outcomes should be easy. It's holding everyone to those promises that will be the test.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:58 Steven Brill
3:58
Michele McNeil: 
And we'll let L. Steven Boone's question be our last for today. Thoughts on research and Race to the Top, Steven?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:58 Michele McNeil
3:58
[Comment From L. Steven BooneL. Steven Boone: ] 
"... A Look Behind the Curtain" suggests rationale. Has anyone carefully read the research put forth by Duncan to justify RTTT?
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:58 L. Steven Boone
3:59
Steven Brill: 
I think there is multiple research the reformers would cite, some of which i mentioned in the article. The Gates Foundation in particular has done a great deal. But i would put that question to the Department.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 3:59 Steven Brill
4:00
Michele McNeil: 
Thanks everyone, but that's all the time we have today. A big thank you to Steven Brill for tackling these questions today. And thanks to all of our guests our there for tuning in.
Tuesday June 1, 2010 4:00 Michele McNeil
4:00
EdWeek Producer: Jennifer: 
And thanks to Michele McNeil for moderating this chat. A transcript will be available shortly on this same page.

Make sure to check out other upcoming chats at www.edweek.org/go/chats
Tuesday June 1, 2010 4:00 EdWeek Producer: Jennifer
4:00
 

 
 
 

Chat: Scoring Race to the Top: A Look Behind the Curtain

NEW TIME: Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 3 p.m. Eastern time


Freelance journalist and author Steven Brill discusses his recent Education Week article looking at inconsistencies and soft spots in the judging process being used to allocate some $4 billion in economic-stimulus grants under the Race to the Top program.

Guests:
Steven Brill, co-CEO of Journalism Online, LLC
Michele McNeil, Assistant Editor, Education Week, moderated this chat.

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