'Race to the Top' judges overlook western states, officials say

Staff reports Updated: August 24, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: August 24, 2010

DENVER • Colorado has lost out again in the race to win federal “Race to the Top” education grants.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of the second round for the grants, nine states — Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island — and the District of Columbia. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said 25,000 schools will get money to raise student learning and close the achievement gap.

The “Race to the Top” program, part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, rewards states for taking up ambitious changes to improve struggling schools. The competition instigated a wave of reforms across the country.

The Colorado Board of Education recently adopted national academic standards to compete for the federal funding. Colorado lawmakers also passed a controversial law to tie job protections for teachers to how well their students are performing.

The chairman of the state Board of Education, Bob Schaffer, said the reforms the board approved weren’t contingent on Colorado’s application for a $175 million federal grant.

Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones on Tuesday thanked the 119 school districts that had agreed to participate in the Race to the Top reforms and the many individuals who worked on the state’s application.

Colorado officials said they will forge ahead with reforms, though progress will be slowed without the federal cash.

“They clearly in Washington have a tin ear about how we do things in the West,” said Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who helped make the state’s pitch to the competition’s judges.

Gov. Bill Ritter said he "believed all along we would be funded" and that the state would press forward with a spate of education reforms now left without funding.

The feds wanted to choose more winners but “simply ran out of money,” Duncan said. He said he hopes to reward more applicants next year with another $1.3 billion in a third round.

“This is not about funding a few states on a pilot basis. This is about a national movement,” he said Tuesday.

But some education groups said “Race to the Top” rewarded states that have weak reform efforts while leaving out those such as Colorado and Louisiana that have made strides to overhaul their schools.

“It becomes clear that the vagaries of peer reviewers and the prowess of grant writers are what drive results in such competitions, not true policy change, political courage, leadership or public commitment to reform,” said Mike Petrilli, a former Education Department official who is now vice president at the Fordham Institute.

"I'm very disappointed in the U.S. Department of Education that they have a process so slanted toward the East Coast and the East Coast way of thinking," O'Brien said.

Hawaii was the only state west of the Mississippi among the 10 that were chosen.

 

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