What Is Race to the Top?

What Is Race to the Top?

What is Race to the Top?

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Education launched a $4.35 billion competitive Race to the Top (RTTT)program of federal incentives to motivate state-level actions meant to close longstanding educational achievement gaps among U.S. population groups.

For example, in order to be eligible to win RTTT funds, states had to agree to:

  • Allow more charter schools,
  • Permit alternative routes to teacher certification,
  • Include growth in students’ standardized state test scores as a significant factor in all district teacher and principal evaluations, and
  • Adopt newCommon CoreK-12 standards in ELA and Math.

While there is no strong research-based evidence or proof from pilot studies to support the efficacy ofthese four federal requirements,[1]they have had national political support from both parties. New York lawmakers were also reluctant to turn down federal monies and moved quickly to enact such controversial measures, in time for the state to win $696 million in RTTT funds to be used over four years.[2]

Race to the Top and High-Stakes, Test-based Accountability

RTTT is a continuation of the federal government’s thus far unsuccessful reliance on high-stakes, test-based accountability to improve U.S. educational outcomes with several notable changes.[3] Since 2001, under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the federal government has held states and schools accountable for meeting set state proficiency standards, whereas RTTT now calls for individual school, teacher and principal accountability for student growth in achievement on standardized tests, which in English Language Arts and Math must now be aligned with new Common Core standards. In order to ensure that each teacher in each subject and grade can be held accountable for changes in student scores over time, in turn, now requires significantly more, and more frequent, testing of students than under NCLB, as well as an enhanced computerized data collection system to track individual student progress and to process the extensive amount of information required to try to link student test results to individual teacher and principal effects.

[1]The evidence on charter school success is at best mixed. See, for example, “Charter Schools,” Education Week, August 3, 2004, updated May 25, 2011: the U.S. Department of Education’s, “Evaluation of the Public Charter Schools Program: Final Report,” SRI International, Washington, D.C., 2004: Philip Gleason, Melissa Clark, Christina Clark Tuttle, Emily Dwoyer, Mathematica Policy Research, “The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts,” Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, June 2010: and Yongmei Ni and Andrea K. Rorrer, “Twice Considered: Charter Schools and Student Achievement in Utah,” 2012 The idea that alternative certification will improve the pool of teachers, especially math and science teachers, is challenged in a 2007 Carnegie report, “Insights into Alternative Certification: Preliminary Findings from a National Study,” written by Daniel C. Humphrey, associate director for educational policy, and Marjorie E. Wechsler, educational policy analyst, both of SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research organization: Regarding federally promoted learning standards, a 2012 Brookings Institute report concludes, “The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement.” Tom Loveless, “How Well Are American Students Learning?” Brown Center Report on American Education, February 2012, Volume III, Number I, 14:

[2]In addition, even though many districts “were apprehensive about what Race to the Top would cost them in time and money,” nearly all signed a voluntary agreement to support its goals as they saw that the state was committed to going for the federal dollars. Gary Stern, Journal News, September 17, 2012:

[3] According to the National Research Council, decades of high-stakes test-based accountability have thus far failed to raise student achievement in the U.S. and may even be contributing to higher high school dropout rates. Michael Hout, and Stuart W. Elliott, Editors, Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education, National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2011: