Today is the one-year anniversary of the economic stimulus package, which infused an unprecedented $100 billion in new federal aid into education. To me, the biggest effect so far has been how it saved states from making scary-deep, Draconian cuts to K-12 budgets. It remains to be seen how much impact the stimulus will have on Race to the Top-style reforms.
Rather than looking back, or celebrating the birthday, as countless others are doing in statement after statement, I want to look ahead and examine the biggest question marks out there as we go into the stimulus package’s second and final year. Here’s what makes my list:
- Who will win Race to the Top?
- How gutsy will the Department be in holding winning states accountable for their Race to the Top promises, especially as states face increasing budget pressure and become desperate for more money to plug budget holes?
- When you’re talking about $100 billion in education aid, including some high-profile competitions (e.g. Race to the Top), there’s bound to be a scandal. What will it be? And how good will the Department of Education, which has been fairly deft at managing communications crises, handle said scandal?
- As Secretary Duncan, via the stimulus package, tries to force states and school districts to embrace merit pay--and knowing that changing how we evaluate teachers is very difficult work--will new evaluation systems actually make any improvement in teaching? Or will such programs be merely window dressing to qualify for federal aid?
- Turning around low-performing schools is very difficult work, and though there are pockets of success, no strategy has succeeded on a large scale. Can Secretary Duncan succeed with his four-model, highly prescriptive plan?
- How many states will really, truly, adopt and implement common standards?
- Will Duncan’s popularity, which surged in part because education was such a big part of the stimulus package, remain?
- Will stimulus-era reforms, especially those embedded in Race to the Top, be codified in the new ESEA?
- Which states will fall hardest off the funding cliff?
- And finally, when the last penny of stimulus money is spent, what will we have to show for it?
These are the big questions that came to mind first. What did I miss?