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Transparency Watch: Race to Top Judges to Be Kept Secret

By Michele McNeil — January 22, 2010 1 min read

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pledged to conduct an open, transparent competition for $4 billion in Race to the Top funds.

But the Education Department is falling short on one key piece: letting the public know who will judge the competition.

The department has vetted and selected 60 peer reviewers, and there will be a training session for them tomorrow. But the department won’t say who they are—that will be announced in April when the winners are named. These are the folks who are tasked with reading through thousands of pages of applications from 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, and scoring them on a complex, 500-point grading scale. Although Duncan has the final say on who wins, the peer reviewers hold a considerable amount of power in determining who wins and who loses.

The rationale for not releasing the names, according to spokesman Justin Hamilton: “Race to the Top peer reviewers should be able to conduct their work without having to worry about inappropriate pressure, lobbying, or other attempts to influence the competition. To protect both the peer reviewers and the contest, we will release their names in April after their work is done.”

Is the department afraid the judges will be inundated with fruit baskets, free tickets, and other tools of bribery?

With so much at stake, it would seem in the department’s best interests—and the public’s—to disclose who will be scoring the applications. If they want to run a competition that is beyond reproach, then they should not be afraid to release the names of the judges. Presumably, these are professionals who have been thoroughly vetted, and who cannot be swayed by fruit baskets and tickets. Moreover, if there is a problem or previously undiscovered conflict-of-interest with one of the peer reviewers, wouldn’t it be better to find out before the first round winners are announced than to be embarrassed after the fact?

What do you think? Should the peer reviewers’ identities be disclosed now?

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