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News from EPI Education Department’s Race to the Top Picks Winners Arbitrarily, Says New EPI Report

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The Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” competitive grants program uses arbitrary criteria to fill budget holes in some states but not in others, as a new Economic Policy Institute report makes clear. The result of this arbitrary system for awarding grants is that it has denied funding to cash-strapped states that have made serious efforts to improve their schools – efforts consistent with the Obama administration’s own principles for education reform.

Although the method for awarding Race to the Top grants has the patina of scientific precision and objectivity, the reality is that it chooses winners and allocates aid subjectively, with little scientific basis, according to the report, Let’s Do the Numbers, by William Peterson and Richard Rothstein. The winners of the first round of Race to the Top, Tennessee and Delaware, could easily have placed lower in the competition with only slight modifications to the arbitrary weights assigned to the competition’s different criteria.

Particularly at a time of severe state budget crises, when class size increases and teacher layoffs are a concern in many states, the report argues for using a simpler, fairer system for awarding grants in the second round of the Race to the Top competition in July. Such a system would ensure that states receive funding as long as they are committed to educational improvement.

Briefing paper