Just because California has removed its teacher-student data fire wall, thereby making itself eligible to compete for Race to the Top Fund grants, that doesn’t mean the state is a shoe-in for the money.
In fact, it seems that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is trying to temper expectations by building a larger narrative that any changes prompted by Race to the Top also could put states in better position for other stimulus-related education grant competitions. After all, the Education Department realizes it can’t give $4 billion in Race to the Top money to every state. (But, it’s worth pointing out that California was often singled out by Duncan for having the firewall, and did act swiftly to get rid of it.)
“This is a piece of a much larger package,” he said in a phone interview today, pointing to some $10 billion in discretionary funds under the stimulus program, such as the school-improvement grants, or the “i3" innovation grants.
And, in specifically speaking about California and other states that have made changes to put themselves in better position for Race to the Top, Duncan tried to downplay the motivation behind these changes: the money. “This money is going to be gone two to four years from now. This is a victory for schoolchildren,” he said.
But for cash-strapped states, it is also about the money.
Earlier this year, when I traveled with Duncan in Florida, he said that one of the reasons he peeled off $350 million from the Race to the Top Fund to award to states for common assessments was to spread the stimulus love around -- to give states that may not be competitive for Race to the Top grants a shot at some stimulus prize money.
Clearly, Duncan & Crew are cognizant that states will need to be rewarded, one way or another, for their education-reform efforts. And he has a large portfolio of award money with which to work. Still, the department has successfully made Race to the Top the most prestigious education stimulus prize of them all.