Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Education Opinion

Miss America and the Race to the Top

By Nancy Flanagan — July 29, 2010 3 min read

Anybody else notice the striking similarities between the Race to the Top, Part Deux, and the traditional Miss America Pageant?

To begin with, fifty contestants. Perhaps a stunner from the Capitol thrown into the mix. Rounds of competition, based on the myth that any hometown girl or backwater state can win, if they’re apple-cheeked, spunky and want it badly enough. And no fair calling it a beauty contest; it’s a scholarship competition. The rhetoric is all-important.

The suspense builds, as it becomes clear that some states/girls are trying hard but haven’t got a prayer of being a finalist. You have to give them credit for persisting, hanging in there when the others are clearly favored. Perhaps they can be named Miss Congeniality, or Most Improved.

There are intermediate winners--with the talent competition carrying extra weight in the scoring. We all know that showing your stuff is more important than being merely attractive. The winners will be under the spotlight and serve as role models for the others, so they had better be polished and have their ducks in a row.

Certain aspects of the competition--the swimsuit fitness round, the Yes-We’re-Willing-to-Impose-Merit-Pay round--are downplayed, but they’re crowd favorites, nonetheless. The scores accrue, and the finalist slots are pretty much in the bag. A cutie that nobody expected slips in (was it tap-dancing her heart out that caught the judges’ eye?)--just to keep things interesting. The tension grows. The finalists are announced, to great fanfare.

And then it’s time for the all-important question round, the place where finalists are put on the spot, answering questions about What Matters Most. There’s spine-tingling delay as Price Waterhouse tallies the scores--it’s so scientific!--while the genial host, a tall good-looking gentleman with dazzling grin and a silver tongue, assures the crowd that the right people are always chosen and tries to whip up more excitement and respect for the contest.

When the winners are announced, nobody’s surprised to learn that the top scorers are states/ women with a history of competing in this kind of thing. They have a team of coaches, experience and resources to shape their performance and build poise. This may be the 15th time they’ve walked down a contest runway--and it shows. They know What the Judges are Looking For, and pursue winning with a passion.

All of this is would be an amusing diversion if it weren’t for the fact that the winners of Race to the Top aren’t awarded a crown and scepter, but hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Their good fortune and preparation will result in truckloads of money, but--just like Miss America--lots of decisions will be made for them over the next year. They will be trading agency and control for financial gain. Whether winning is a blessing, or the genesis of wondering if what they wished for is worth the cost, remains to be seen.

Do the right contestants win? With Miss America, there’s always someone who thinks the winner has a long nose or irritating demeanor--but it’s easy to blow the contest off as subjective and lightweight.

On the other hand, my own experience in scoring a national exam has taught me that inter-rater reliability is a key factor in sound scoring practice--and the first round of Race to the Top failed that critical benchmark of reliability. So maybe there’s more than a touch of subjectivity and human bias in both contests.

One thing is certain. Some contestants never had a chance. They’ll have to settle for brave rhetoric and soul-searching about whether diverting their time and resources to the pageant contest competition was worth it.

With the Miss America spectacle, the losers are the other 49 pretty girls. Whereas, with Race to the Top, the losers are...?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Larkspur, California
Tamalpais Union High School District
Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read