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Florida and Hawaii Get Dinged Again for Race to Top Woes

By Michele McNeil — March 26, 2012 3 min read
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Along the Race to the Top timeline, we are halfway to the finish line. Almost two years ago to the day, the U.S. Department of Education handed out the first two coveted prizes in the $4 billion competition—to Delaware and Tennessee. A few months later, 10 more states won.

So two years into a four-year, high-profile grant program, just how are the winning dozen doing as they “race to the top”? A new analysis by the Center for American Progress, which is hosting a panel discussion on the topic this morning, attempts to figure that out.

Generally, the think tank’s report concludes that states are doing a relatively good job putting their plans into effect, but are struggling to build capacity to implement reforms, and to maintain the support of and good communication with key stakeholders.

So let’s name names.

First, who’s struggling the most, according to CAP? Florida and Hawaii. (No surprises there.)

And who’s doing the best job, so far? Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina— and even New York! (The Empire State has had its problems with teacher evaluations, among other issues.)

To come to these decisions, CAP looked at six indicators and weighted their importance: Whether the Education Department has deemed the state’s performance adequate (40 percent); whether the state has the support of major stakeholders—unions and districts (30 percent); how fast it’s spending its money (10 percent); whether the state has at least piloted a new teacher-evaluations system (10 percent); implementation of common standards (5 percent); and making progress on data systems (5 percent).

States got bonus marks if they published monthly updates on their Race to the Top progress online.

CAP then labeled states as “meeting” or “not meeting” expectations. All but Florida and Hawaii are meeting expectations, per the CAP analysis.

Georgia got particularly high marks for implementing common core and data system upgrades, and for publishing easy-to-find monthly updates on its website. North Carolina also excelled in those areas, plus has had a fairly high rate of spending.

Ohio got a perfect score for its data-systems projects, and kudos for publishing updates online, but was less strong in implementing common standards.

New York, which has struggled with its teacher-evaluation piece, got dinged for slow spending, and not posting updates online, but got high marks for common core and data system projects.

Florida and Hawaii were the only two states criticize for losing support from major district or union stakeholders. For Florida, that’s because the state teachers’ union has sued over a new teacher-evaluation law. For Hawaii, that’s because of a long-running labor dispute between the state and the union. And Hawaii, of course, was the only one that flunked the first indicator by getting placed on “high-risk” status by the federal department.

CAP acknowledges that the data it used has a “number of limitations,” and Politics K-12 agrees. For example, its spending indicator doesn’t take into account things like whether a state has budgeted to spend most of its money in the later years of the grant.

In addition, the straight-up “yes” or “no” answer as to whether a state has piloted or implemented a new teacher-evaluation system doesn’t showcase the complexities of this undertaking, if a state is implementing the system in strict allegiance to its plan, or the significant struggles some states are encountering. Hawaii, for example, got full credit for its teacher-evaluation system even though that’s the primary driver behind the federal department’s dissatisfaction with the Aloha State.

Still, right now, there are no great indicators that tell the whole story of just how much progress is—or isn’t—being made in these states. CAP’s analysis keeps the conversation going and focused. And, this analysis comes during a week when the Education Department is heading to Hawaii to determine whether the state will get to keep its $75 million or if the Aloha State will be the first state to lose its Race to the Top grant.