With the announcement of the round one Race to the Top (RTT) finalists upon us, I can only say I’m glad I declined the invitation to apply to be an RTT reviewer. For those who have had a chance to peruse the applications, you know what I mean. For those of you who haven’t, it’s worth a look. The notion that any responsible person can read these and determine which deserve how many points on a given criteria... well, good luck.
In any event, here are a few fun facts that emerge when perusing the mounds of words.
• The total page length of all the applications: 22,369 pages. In other words, about 75 fair-sized books. Someone who reads 40 pages an hour could get through all that in about 560 hours (or about fourteen 40-hour work weeks) sans breaks to rest their eyes or grab a drink. Oh, and that’s leaving out the eleven state appendices that weren’t available online.
• The Department of Education suggested that no application include a narrative portion of more than 100 pages or more than 250 pages in appendices. Taking the college sophomore’s maxim that no one ever got in trouble for going long by ardently stuffing in filler, every state exceeded those guidelines. Taking this collegiate maxim to heart, little New Mexico‘s application weighed in at 890 total pages, which was just a hair shorter than New York‘s (908 total pages).
• In an impressive feat of edu-hipness, Wisconsin‘s application mentions “professional development” a total of 217 times. That’s once every three pages.
• Illinois brags about partnering with Boston-based Mass Insight “to create scalable and sustainable strategies for turning around clusters of low-performing schools.” On their own website, it just so happens that Mass Insight describes its expertise: “To create sustainable and scalable strategies for turning around clusters of low-performing schools.” Someone more cynical than I might suspect that a consultant just cut-and-pasted, or that someone from Mass Insight helped write that language.
• The forty-one applicants asked for a total of $13.46 billion. That’s more than three times the total amount available.
• At 847 pages, Tennessee‘s appendix was fat indeed. What does it contain? Well, remember the kid who used to cut-and-paste the Bill of Rights into his report on the American founding? The 259-page Appendix B contains large parts of a verbatim cut-and-paste of the Common Core Standards. Not only is Tennessee not unique in having signed onto this (48 states, 2 territories, and DC have all joined), but the entirety of the text is available online. Not sure whether reviewers should credit Tennessee’s enthusiasm or ding Tennessee for the extra poundage.
• Ohio boasts of its “Simple, yet bold, long-term aspirations.” These admirable goals include “a near-100%" high school graduation rate with schools teaching at internationally competitive standards, elimination of achievement gaps, and higher-ed completion rates “that are among the highest in the nation and world.” Are reviewers supposed to reward that simple, bold vision...or dismiss it as puffery?
• West Virginia promises to highlight innovative thinking. One proffered example: a professional development training course in which staff read The World is Flat and used it to launch discussion. A couple thoughts. Well, just one. C’mon...really?
• Arkansas included in their application an entire appendix (Appendix B, in two parts) with over 60 pages dedicated to presenting excerpts from works of literature in the curriculum. These include Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Crow,” part of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and, in a truly touching bit of genius, a writing sample from a second grader entitled “My Ride on Space Mountain.” I’ll say it again. C’mon... really?
Anyway, it turns out that spending millions to have consultants stitch together vast reform plans can make for amusing reading. Who would’ve guessed?
The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.