Special Report
Federal Opinion

The Buy-In Myth

By Dan Weisberg — April 30, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Late last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced the first winners in its Race to the Top grants competition, sending shock waves through statehouses across the country. Only Delaware and Tennessee won awards, leaving 39 other applicants—14 of them finalists—out of the first-round money.

Commentators pored over the results, searching for the secret to winning. They latched on to one of the most accessible explanations: The winning states had convinced nearly all of their local school districts and teachers’ unions to support their applications.

The need for broad buy-in—and its implication that states must water down their proposals to get it—quickly became conventional wisdom. The Wall Street Journal wrote that the results “sent a message to state capitals that winners must garner broad support from teachers’ unions and local school boards.” The Associated Press concluded that strong local support in Delaware and Tennessee “helped them stand out from the other 14 finalists.” Education Week’s headline read, “Local Buy-In Helps Two States Win Race to Top” (March 29, 2010).

There’s just one problem: It’s not true.

Several states secured as much buy-in as the winners but still finished far behind them. Some of those states, like Utah and Kansas, didn’t even qualify for the finals. Idaho secured support from every single union in the state, but managed only a 28th-place finish. Buy-in was not enough to make up for major weaknesses in these states’ applications.

At the same time, states with relatively low buy-in still came very close to winning. Florida finished in fourth place even though only 8 percent of local unions signed on to its plan. Louisiana earned the highest score in the contest’s most heavily weighted category—“great teachers and leaders”—despite earning support from fewer than half its districts. Both states could have scored even higher by correcting specific deficiencies in their applications that had nothing to do with stakeholder support. Louisiana, for example, lost just 6 points on local buy-in, but 15 points for inadequately addressing the application section on math and science education.

Clearly, buy-in is not the golden ticket it has been made out to be. But if it’s not the key to winning, what is?

In short: vision and leadership. Tennessee and Delaware distinguished themselves by committing to bold, comprehensive reforms, such as creating rigorous teacher evaluations tied to student learning and making big changes in failing schools. They built their plans around changes to state laws, ensuring that all districts would faithfully implement the policies that were passed. They recognized that incorporating feedback from teachers and other stakeholders would strengthen their applications, but they made participation in the dialogue contingent on a commitment to sensible reforms.

What neither of these states did was water down its application to earn the blessing of unions and school boards. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the buy-in myth encourages states to do. It wrongly suggests that Florida, Louisiana, and other states that put forward strong proposals lost because they went too far, when the truth is that they could have won by going just a little bit farther.

Being bold, after all, is what the Race to the Top is all about. It’s why education leaders believe it’s an opportunity to transform public education and give generations of children a brighter future. That goal is still within reach—but only if states can separate myth from fact.

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as The Buy-In Myth

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
Data Webinar
Working Smarter, Not Harder with Data
There is a new paradigm shift in K-12 education. Technology and data have leapt forward, advancing in ways that allow educators to better support students while also maximizing their most precious resource – time. The
Content provided by PowerSchool
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
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP