What Did Race to the Top Accomplish?

Education Next talks with Joanne Weiss and Frederick M. Hess

ednext_XV_4_forum_img01Race to the Top was the Obama administration’s signature education initiative. Initially greeted with bipartisan acclaim, it has figured in debates about issues ranging from the Common Core to teacher evaluation to data privacy. Five years have passed since the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners in the $4 billion contest. What can the competition and its aftermath teach us about federal efforts to spur changes in schooling?

Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and director of the federal Race to the Top program, argues that the initiative spurred comprehensive improvements nationwide and in numerous policy areas, among them standards and assessments, teacher evaluation methods, and public school choice. Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, whose books include Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from a Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America’s Schools, contends that the competition rewarded mainly grant-writing prowess and that policymakers should be wary of top-down efforts to spur innovation.

• Joanne Weiss: Innovative Program Spurred Meaningful Education Reform

• Frederick M. Hess: Lofty Promises But Little Change for America’s Schools

This article appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Education Next. Suggested citation format:

Weiss, J., and Hess, F.M. (2015). What Did Race to the Top Accomplish? Education Next, 15(4), 50-56.

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428
Email Education_Next@hks.harvard.edu

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488
Email subscriptions@educationnext.org

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College