“States Skeptical About ‘Race to Top’ School Aid Contest” is a New York Times front page headline today. The Times, which has been generally supportive of the Obama administration, captures the sense of federal power moves in this quote from Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Jr. describing how his state lost in the contest for Race to the Top funds: “It was like the Olympic Games, and we were an American skater with a Soviet judge from the 1980s,” Mr. Ritter said.
The Times article — which is worth reading in full — explains that Obama plans are far-reaching overhauls of American education that will take many years to achieved — but do include some political goodies for the administration coming in September:
Administration officials say they consider last week’s outcome a splendid success. By awarding only $100 million to Delaware and $500 million to Tennessee, Mr. Duncan retained $3.4 billion to dole out to up to 15 winning states in September, weeks before the midterm elections — a political bonus that officials insist is mere serendipity.
Mr. Duncan says the administration won victories months before the results were announced, when a dozen states rewrote education laws in ways the administration had recommended. Michigan, for instance, passed laws permitting state takeovers of failing schools and tying teacher evaluations to students’ test scores.
Such legislative changes laid only the groundwork for states to undertake more far-reaching overhauls of educator evaluation systems and low-performing schools that are the heart of the administration’s school reform strategy.
Frederick Hess, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, said that the changes would require years of work and that the administration would need broad cooperation from a majority of states.“This administration has had billions in stimulus dollars to buy support,” Mr. Hess said. “After that money is spent, further success with reform will depend on good working relationships with states. That is why all this grumbling matters.