A new report from the Center for American Progress says that while many closely link controversial teacher evaluations to federal Race to the Top grants, less than 10 percent of the grant funding awarded went into those evaluations, while just over half the money spent by states directly helped educators.
“Investing in Educator Capacity: An Analysis of State Race to the Top Spending,” says that while states and districts are still struggling to identify best teaching practices, make the transition to new assessments, and create more progress in low-performing schools, "[Race to the Top] has triggered a national conversation in which teacher development; high-quality standards and assessments; support for struggling schools; and the use of data to drive decisions are no longer seen as separate components of an eﬀective school system.”
If this theme sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because the U.S. Department of Education put out its own report on Race to the Top last month. That report highlighted several initiatives that the department deemed successful, but mostly avoided struggles states have had, particularly with respect to teacher evaluations. CAP, which is generally seen as pretty close to the Obama administration, focuses its Dec. 21 report for the most part on the grant program’s successes, although it does note states’ troubles making the simultaneous transition to new assessments and evaluations.
One note on the statistic in the opening paragraph: CAP found that while $761 million of the $1.3 billion states spent themselves under the Race to the Top “classic” grants, separate from those grants that went directly to districts or to early learning, went directly to educators. But that doesn’t cover the remaining $1.6 billion (55 percent of the total funds CAP examined that were spent in the first four years out of five years of Race to the Top funding) that states sent directly to districts. Race to the Top “classic” awarded $4.3 billion in total to winning states, with some of that ultimately going to districts.
According to CAP, $348 million of those funds spent by states went to instructional and curricular supports, while $263 million went to “direct educator supports” like professional development, and $150 million went to pre-service supports like raising certification requirements for prospective educators. By contrast, states spent $111 million on teacher evaluation.
And here’s one broad conclusion draws from its Race to the Top analysis: “Congress should create state-level competitive programs that incorporate Race to the Top principles to spur reform and innovation.”
Four years ago, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization plan Congress was considering did include authorization of Race to the Top. But that’s not a part of the ESEA reauthorization that got done through the Every Student Succeeds Act. It will be interesting to see to what extent future Education Department leaders, and Congress, are interested in competitive grants like Race to the Top, a program which triggers strong opinions nowadays, good and bad.