Were RTT Applications Graded on a Curve?

In this Education Next article, I wrote, “When state (RTT) proposals hit Arne Duncan’s desk, the secretary must become the toughest schoolmarm in America.”  Unfortunately, today we got the first sense of his grading curve, and it turns out he gives lots of As.

As I wrote on Flypaper, I’m very disappointed with the Department’s decision to name 16 states RTT finalists.  A number of these states have glaring deficiencies that would make them unable to get over a medium bar much less the “very, very high bar” that Secretary Duncan said he would set.

In a number of tweets, the Department’s press team explained the long list by saying that there was a natural break in the scoring (around 400 points of 500) and reassured that the bar is still high, that very few of these finalists will win.  I want to believe them; I really do.

But they didn’t have to take 16 states just because there was a natural break there.  They could have only selected the top 2 or 5 or even 8.  That would’ve sent the right signal: that the administration is serious about big reforms not average proposals.

Sixteen sends precisely the wrong signal.  Take for example New York, which wrangled over reform legislation until the very last day before deciding just hours before the filing deadline that they were going to reject the Department’s priorities.  Yet New York is a finalist.  Kentucky doesn’t even have a charter law, but they too made the finals.

I’m afraid this won’t make states more willing to embrace reform.  It will bolster their sense of complacency, that the status quo is good enough.

[Please see the blog entries here and here and here and  here and here and here for more discussion of the Race to the Top finalists.]

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