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U.S. Education's 'Race to the Top'

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Race to the Top was made to be an attention-grabber. Competition plus money equals attention. Add in America’s cash-starved schools, and you’ve got a real race.

The Obama administration has used Race to the Top to focus the country on education reform. Four and a half billion dollars to be won and 40-plus states in the running. There were sixteen finalists and, this week, two states in the winners’ circle: Delaware and Tennessee.

How did they do it? How did they win? We’ll ask.

This hour, On Point: the governor of Tennessee and top Delaware educator on what it took to win.


Joining us from Dover, Del., is Daniel Cruce, Deputy Secretary of Education for Delaware. The state won approximately $100 million in the first round of Race to the Top.

From Nashville, we’re joined by Phil Bredesen, Governor of Tennessee, which won approximately $500 million in this round of Race to the Top.

And from Washington we’re joined by Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 2002 to 2008, he was director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

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  • Gary

    So…Does this mean we are scrapping our Race to the Bottom program? It was just starting to show real results.

  • Winston Smith

    The myth that we are underspending on education is absurd. We spend an average of $13000 per student to educate our children, an incredible amount of money. The problem is that we have too many overpaid teachers and administrators. Of course, the public school system and the Democratic Party are both in the pocket of the NEA. Consequently, we could spend 50% more money and it still wouldn’t be sufficient in their eyes. And instead of pushing radical left agendas (e.g. gay agenda with books like “Heather Has Two Mommies”), or catering to every special interest group in the country, we should emphasize teaching reading and writing, math, science, and unrevisionist history. Also, these classes should be taught IN ENGLISH, our primary language in the USA.

  • Mary

    Tom, I would like to hear you do a show with renowned education historian and scholar Diane Ravitch, who was once an avid supporter of the absurdly-named No Child Left Behind and has now published a stinging critique of NCLB and its unfortunate descendant, Race to the Top.

  • Tom

    In Texas, the governor, in the name of politics, refused to allow Texas children to participate in the Race to the Top competition. He was in a primary battle and wanted to “out conservative” his opponents. Meanwhile, 2009 reading scores (for fourth graders) were just released and Texas ranked 34th. Moreover, high school football coaches here are paid MORE than teachers. And guess what, the governor will probably get re-elected. Texas has its priorities backwards. I wish the rest of the country luck as you move forward while Texas remains stuck in the past.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m curious about the role of charter schools. One of the guests mentioned that as a part. Isn’t there a controversy that charter schools actually lower the quality of public schools by (a) siphoning off the “best” students and (b) siphoning off the funding for those students from the public schools?

  • http://www.lit.org/author/fritzwilliam F. William Bracy

    Gary said:

    So…Does this mean we are scrapping our Race to the Bottom program? It was just starting to show real results.

    Love it! But never fear … we have no plans to leave our Race to the Bottom behind. We keep our children in school all of 5-1/2 hours per day (including lunch) when Japan and others keep their kids in the classroom for NLT 7-1/2 hours.

    We’re sure to prove them wrong in the end. Just give us a little more time.

  • Peter Smyth

    As a retired teacher and principal at “successful” schools, I saw the damage NCLB did to education, particularly through high stakes testing and AYP. I recognize that many schools need help, but schools that are getting it done need the resources as well to be competitive worldwide. Too often closing the gap has meant holding these schools and their students back while the others catch up. THe center kids have been lost and the best and brightest often ignored.
    I have a bright, passionate three year old grandchild. I do not want her to attend a school nor be taught by teachers whose performance is measured by student achievement on tests. I want her to be a passionate learner, a thinker, a doer, and even a dancer.
    Will the Race to the Top produce a school for Grace? I don’t hear that.

  • http://npr Pam

    I know alot of teachers, and their main concern is the lack of consequences for the students in the evaluation process. Also, if teacher is unpopular, students could possibly wreck their career by performing poorly on purpose. When you use test scores to reward or punish teachers and or schools, they will teach to the test. This repeated testing wears on the students and they have no vested interest in performing well. Maybe if the students had consequences (i.e. failing the grade if they fail the test) they would take more of an interest in actually learning the material.

  • Wait one minute…

    Are teachers being held accountable for the problems that kids face in the home? Are there data collection systems that incorporate the whole child or just the child from 8am-3pm?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Do children and parents even KNOW the results of these tests used to evaluate teachers and schools? It used to be not that the teacher took all the credit for their students’ performance but that the students took all the credit.

  • Janet

    Diane Ravitch was on a different NPR program a few weeks ago and had some interesting comments about education. She is dead set against any Charter schools.

  • Ellen Dibble

    My advice: Help parents (mothers) who also have jobs to pitch in. Parenting classes to make sure the parents are on board and know precisely that their children’s success depends on their input. I’m thinking of bright little Grace back there in the posts, and that her parents will probably see that she gets the exposure, the boost, the sense of competitiveness that she needs.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If my advice is a little shallow it is because I read it in a book I bought yesterday on population matters, saying that the issue is to have policies so women outside the home are assisted. Whether “issue” in terms of exploding or controlling population I don’t know yet.

  • John

    The education expert just said “incentivizing.” We are doomed.

  • Ellen Dibble

    That teachers should feel supported — so crucial. The impression (from their unions) that teachers are mainly defensive, walling themselves in, never put your heads up or you’ll be shot down — I’m hearing good ideas out there.

  • Wait one minute…

    Daniel Cruce,

    You did not adequately answer the question posed to you by caller Greg. You “respectively disagree” with “the myth” that low income students cannot be high acheivers.

    Respectfully, that was not the point the caller was making. When students come from low income areas thay have more worry on their shoulders, it has nothing to do with their aptitude or their potential for understanding, it has to do with one’s ability to concentrate.

  • http://www.lit.org/author/fritzwilliam F. William Bracy

    Listening to this I rest my case. We have no intention of abandoning our Race to the Bottom program.

  • Wait one minute…

    For presentation Daniel Cruce gets an A, for substance- an F.

  • Gary

    I freely admit that I don’t understand the monetary distribution process of this program. But if I were to judge it on all of the government “programs” of the past 20 years, then I would rename it the State Pension Bonus Program, or the State Deficit Reduction Program. If the past is out teacher, then that’s where the money will likely be going.

  • Dale

    This is sick! Cruce says that children from high poverty homes do just as well as kids from middle-class homes. Really? Then why don’t the data show that? My God, can’t we be a tad bit honest about the topic of poverty? NO TEACHER is skilled enough to overcome the effects of poverty, which frequently include horrible nutrition, single-parent families, living in violent neigborhoods, having no health insurance, not having stable adult relationships, moving constantly, and kids coming to school without jackets.

    It is very hard to get teachers to stay at these schools. They frequently suffer abuse from students (verbal often, sometimes physical), get paid very little, and work tons of hours. Now, talking heads are trashing them, too. So, why teach there?

  • Gary

    …In addendum, I must point out that this program has the general fragrance of the recent Wall St bonus programs.

    We have people who are highly paid with golden retirement plans, standing in the smoldering rubble of the education system, competing for a well deserved bonus on the backs of the taxpayer.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Teachers with high-concentration-type students can be hired to burn certain matters — reading, multiplication tables, grammar… — into their brains, and those students will sit there and be programmed. The children may be those whose parents can pay for private education, essentially taking them away from exposure to those low-concentration types Wait-one-minute was referring to (who cannot escape their inner realities or pacify them long enough to have these things baked in).
    But although those teachers may be able to do more in terms of preparation, knowing they have a captive audience, and if they were graded upon their students’ test results (private or assuming some rich suburb was able to create such a school), for one thing the students would be missing the – the – the reality.
    It seems to me teachers worth their weight in gold are the ones who are stimulated, not defeated, when the great diversity of American experience shows up in class. I am thinking of Angela’s Ashes and Teacher — the Irish author. You know…
    There are other books by educators — I am thinking of one about the Maoris in New Zealand called I think Spinster. Somehow teachers themselves can tell the Himalayan heights scaled along the way, but the “system” doesn’t shell out dollars when the peak is achieved. How many teachers do you recall who seemed to have felt throttled by their careers rather than empowered?
    How many of them write books?

  • L Inglese

    I would argue that an open lottery for entry into a charter school may still be somewhat “cherry picking” students. What type of parents apply for their child to be accepted into a charter school? Probably parents that value education. What about the students whose parents do not know about the charter school, or the impact and/or value of a good education? As Geoffrey Canada does in Harlem’s Childrens Zone, those parents and children should be recruited to apply. That process would minimize “cherry picking”.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Where I live, children have to find their own transportation in order to attend charter schools, which may be difficult to reach by public transportation, and difficult for working parents (or drugged-out parents) to reach by car. Car-pooling doesn’t work unless the whole neighborhood becomes very determined and wins the lottery as a car-pool group. So cherry-picking is also determined when a community doesn’t really have access.

  • Wait one minute…

    Ellen Dibble,

    I didn’t mean that there are “low concentration types” Students who are not doing well in class may be concentrating on something going on in the home. In fact, they may be highly concentrated on something happening in the home, or not happening at home.

  • brij singh

    I admire that President Obama is putting more emphasis on primary education. Sure, money will help the states that would receive funds.
    There are other social problems that affect primary education in a bad way. In Buddhism, it is said that the student has to be ready to be taught. In most of the cases teachers go in the profession because they think they can make a difference. But, withing a few years they give up on their dreams and stay in teaching for money and benefits ( which is very important for livelihood).
    Teachers’ unions have become an obstacle for betterment of education. I can understand their roles since there is no single way to measure their impact on education.

    Anyway, I am hoping the funding helps the education!!!

  • Wait one minute…

    Immigration, sustance abuse, unemployment. Solve those problems and you’ll improve the schools.

    What are the experts solutions? a wall, a drug war, NAFTA.

    Who needs a better education?

  • Steve Wisth

    I live in a large urban area with failing public schools.

    I send three children to a private school run by my church that has a 50% minority (according to broad US census race tracking) enrollment.

    The cost of educating my children is $3500 per child per year. The cost of a public school eucation in my city is over $13,000 per child per year.

    There are children taking and passing college advanced placement exams during the 8th grade at our school.
    The public schools have trouble graduating kids from highschool.

    The main requirement in our school is parental involvement and very high standards. If parents are not willing to be involved in their children’s education they are counciled and helped to do so. If they refuse they are asked to find other alternatives.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Wait one minute… thanks for the clarification. I didn’t know what to say. I think anyone who goes into a classroom — many, many classrooms — or even just sees some in action on TV, knows exactly what you mean. Someone will blame the teacher for ineffective discipline. Someone will ask medical doctors for calming-type medications. Someone will take a more sociological approach.

  • Wait one minute…

    “If they refuse they are asked to find other alternatives.” Steve, that’s cherry picking. The other alternative is likely public schools. Thus, “The public schools have trouble graduating kids from highschool.” A lot of struggling kids will do better if they are surrounded by smarter kids.

    Also, is $3,500 what you pay for your child’s tuition or is it the actual cost per pupil?

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Education is not about poverty there are alot of third world countries like India and the Philippines who educated their students very well. $3,500 a year for a child and United States still behind in Science and Math compared to the countried like India and the Philippines and totally behind Japan and Germany.

    It is hard to educate a Child in America. Politics is keeping the children of America behind with developing and industrialize countries.

    Money is not the answer to educate a child it Self Determination and Self reliant. Philippines alone only spend $200 a year for a child and but in reality the government don’t spend anything but those Filipino kids ending up a BSNs or Engineers.

  • Steve Wisth

    $3,500 per pupil.

    A parent should be required to take responsibilty for their children and this absolutely is cherry picking; and this is a serious problem for the entire educational system.

    I did not mean to imply that all of the socio-economic problems that lurk in the background do not contribute to what is a failing system.

    With no disrespect, involved parents are still a very good indicator of student success.

  • Ellen Dibble

    The $3,500 might not include a lot of overhead that a public school would figure in. The church would figure they maintain the building anyway, something like that, or the sisters do not have union salaries but instead room and board, something like that.
    I recall a Baptist church in Bedford-Stuyvesant (sp?) where a member explained their parish house (my term) is where they educate their children, and I was surprised to a church other than Catholic establishing their own school.
    Parent involvement, where I have been an afterschool in-neighborhood volunteer in a community mostly Puerto Rican, was constricted by the sense of not belonging to the community-at-large. In general, if you’ve got a lot of immigrants, the parents are not going to be able to introduce the children to all the aspects of the community, the government, the culture — the people. They might not feel altogether welcomed. To the kids, I felt like the question was, “Have you ever gone out for pizza in this town and NOT felt like an outsider?” It seems that with me, they could pretend to be locals. Amazing, since I don’t exactly feel like an insider. Do you know how to go into these art galleries and behave? How about the library? Their parents were not picking up at all. Of course, they might have lots of things to teach the likes of me, but I think every bit of their energy was used up keeping their own community sort of safe and connected to Puerto Rico. The particular sort of housing achieved a kind of cherry-picking of way of life and expectations. To leave that housing meant a chance to integrate a bit more, change expectations.

  • Wait one minute…


    It’s not that money makes for a better education, rather the social problems that accompany unemployment/

    If in reality the government doesn’t spend anything for education in the Phillipines, do the teachers work for free? And if the teachers work for free, how do they pay for food and housing?

    Sorry for the simple questions.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Wait a minute?

    Did you actually read my posting?

  • Wait one minute…

    I was curious about Japan’s teachers because i have always heard they have the best education system. Turns out they do have a teachers union and it is the oldest union (1947) in the country. It turns out they have uncannily similar issues that we have in the US re: reform and training. (based on wiki)

    Tom, how about a show comparing Japan’s teachers and our teachers? This American Life did an awesome show on cars and auto unions last week, how about the same deal on schools and teachers unions?

  • Wait one minute…

    Yes, of course I read it.

    Maybe I didn’t understand. How do the teachers get paid in the Phillipines? Do parents pay $200 tution and that pays the teachers, and is that enough for them to live on– have a house? I don’t understand how it works.

  • Ed

    These guys talk in very vague terms. I couldn’t figure out what exactly they were doing to improve teaching.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Filipino teachers don’t get paid alot probably $3,000 a year and some of them use their own money to buy books,pencils,snacks and other school supplies for their students. Public school system in the Philippines is Free and the students just have to buy school supplies but in reality they can even afford to buy school supplies so the teachers buy those supplies for their students.

    I might be wrong about the annual salary of Public shool teachers. I was educated in a Private catholic shools in Manila.

    by the way, Asian students private and public alike clean their own classrooms just like in Japan.

  • Wait one minute…

    Thanks for the information.
    I am not sure what $3,000 buys in the Phillipines, but I assume they are paid decently enough where they are able to purchase supplies, as teachers in the US here do in some school districts, and live in a house etc.

  • Ashley

    Anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid has obviously never been a teacher in the public school system recently. I don’t think that’s the biggest problem in education right now.

  • Liz B.

    Term ‘top’ in the ‘race to the top’ slogan was not defined. What is ‘top’, where is it? Higher test marks?

    The majority of the American children are behind in terms of global competition. This should be looked at in the light that the American workforce is behind in global competition and that is because of our high costs of ‘everything’ – living expenses, cost of education, cost of business, etc. First these things need to tackled and dealt with.

    Our education system reflects the American society in general, where there are serious underlying problems we need to deal with first. Since the ‘great recession’ is not over yet and we don’t really know where the country is heading, then how can we define educational goals for children. Yes, math, writing, reading skills are essentials but PE, arts and music classes are equally important and unfortunately the funding for these ‘arts’ related classes’ are being cut everywhere. Whatever happened to exposing students to various subjects?

    Also, there should be more emphasis on vocational training in every state so communities could rely on the skills of their population to be sustainable.

    And one final note on teacher responsibility. It is unfair to teachers to be evaluated on the basis of student testing scores. Do we want everyone to score perfect on SATs? There is much more behind testing scores then teachers ability to teach. Parents and family involvement should be emphasized much more.

  • david

    A example of money wasted on Education at taxpayer expense. Hope this is an isolated case.
    New York school system.
    “rubber rooms” This is where bad union teachers are paid to sit in a room doing crossword puzzles. It is a joke that is funded by taxpayer dollars — $40.5 million just last year — thanks to the teachers unions that have made it virtually impossible to fire a government school employee.

  • dale

    Alkilez’s comment about India and the Philippines is completely false. In those countries, only the cream of the crop get an education. The literacy rates in these countries are extremely low, and a tiny percentage graduates from high school. Besides, when he/she says that they are the ones graduating with the degrees in science and math, I’m wondering if he is talking about those millions and millions of children myred in poverty who have no jobs, no clothes, no food, no medicine, etc.

    And finally, you can’t compare the US to India because, well, India DOES NOT participate in international assessments.

  • dale

    In the last three weeks, Tom has hosted two shows on NCLB. In them, he has not invited any opponents of it. Biased? I think so. Where is the balance, WBUR?

  • http://victorials.wordpress.com Victoria

    When you have more than 30 kids per class, there is very little you can do to help those kids in the back who might’ve had to fight their way to the school and back that day, and everyday. I’ve known too many people who grew up going to overcrowded schools with old text books, overworked teachers, and parents who are just not connected, or not able to connect. There is only so much one teacher can do. And trying to keep kids in their seats, interested, attentive, and nurtured 6 hours a day, 5 days a week is not easy in the best of circumstances. Poverty of pocket is different than poverty of environment.

    Also, it’s so sad to hear this country talking about education like it’s for techno robots, instead of creative beings. What are we here for, in this one life of ours?

  • Krystal

    Was glad to hear Homeschooling brought up in the segment, albeit briefly.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    Dale you are totally wrong. I was born in the Philippines and the Philippines produced 45,000 Bachelor’s of Science of Nursing degrees.

    The Philippines has the highest literacy rate in South Asia my friend or should I say Asia and India is the same.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com akilez

    And Dale the Literacy rate in the Philippines is 93%
    I wonder where you get your facts.

  • Lynne

    Why shouldn’t teachers have the support and protection of a union? Why are unions started? Because of unfair and unsafe work environments. Why can’t teachers expect a fair and safe work environment, too?

    In MA, we have to pay for and earn a master’s degree in education, recertify every five years, be observed every other year, and set and reach teaching goals every year. We are not paid like other professionals, and though we get several weeks “off” in the summer, we are paid for 10 months, not 12 months, of the year. Many of us opt for the actual payments being spread out over the twelve months, but it’s still 10 months worth of salary. We are NOT paid for the weeks out of the classroom in summer (even the 3 weeks typically worked in August to get ready for the new school year in our sweltering classrooms), and all the many, many hours of overtime that we all must put in to be prepared to teach engaging, standards-based lessons. We are NOT reimbursed for: snacks & holiday party treats we provide for our students, school supplies that we pay for out-of-pocket for a whole class, professional workbooks, some photocopying, computer software we provide for our students, trade books for the classroom library – always a big expense, especially replacing all the ones that have been worn out by student use, homework folders for students, or (most $$) of the grad classes we take over the summer in order to recertify, etc.

    I’m not complaining, but we have families to support, too. We have kids we want to put through college, too. Ours is a subjective business, and the minute an absent parent blames us for all their child’s ills, or we suggest something that the principal doesn’t take kindly to, our jobs are in jeopardy. Have you ever disagreed with your boss? Is your salary based on how well others do? Could you lose your job because someone (other than your boss), that isn’t doing their job, thinks you do a bad job?

    We work hard to earn a degree for 6 years in a field we are passionate about, we pay to take the MTEL, we student teach, volunteer, and substitute to gain experience, and finally, we land a job. Then we have three years of administrative oversight (announced, unannounced, and walk-through observations), and finally if the principal likes what he/she sees, we gain “professional status” (no bonus, no pay increase, like in other industries, just a letter). Then we need to take courses, attend workshops, etc., paid mostly by us, so we can pay the state to recertify every five years to stay up-to-date in our field and do what we love. (Kind of like becoming a lawyer, only we don’t have air conditioned offices or big salaries or the protection of a big law firm or the ability to go to the bathroom without asking someone’s permission.)

    Again, I’m NOT complaining, but please understand that we work hard, and to base our salaries and jobs on test scores of students that have a myriad of learning, social and emotional issues that we have no control over and are not responsible for is scary. It’s not the whole picture of a teacher – by a long shot. And, where are these “bad” teachers?? Every teacher I work with dedicates him/herself so completely to their job and the raising of their own children. I guess every industry has their bad apples; I feel lucky to work with such dedicated colleagues. And please, don’t remind me about the wonderful pensions we’ll get (when, or if, we finally can afford to retire); my paychecks remind me enough, and the sad thing for some of us who came to teaching after staying home to raise children or took a few years off to do so, our pensions will be small AND we cannot collect the money paid into the social security system from the work we did before becoming a teacher. I’m just praying that I can afford to support myself and buy a book to read to my future grandchild when I finally retire.

  • Sam Wilson


    Why on earth all major IT/Software companies do have a strong presence in India or are planning to make India their top priority?

    You think poor illiterate people would be more beneficial to Microsoft or Cisco or Intel’s Research and Development Team?

    Get your facts straight my friend!

  • http://www.qwk2lrn.com James Hare

    Race to the top has a subprogram “Investing in Innovation” (i3) that may hold a key to turning around our worst performing schools. In many large urban school districts like Detroit we prepare more students for incarceration than matriculation. Something must be done to change the status quo. In Detroit we are finding that teachers and students can become more effective by equipping them with the resources and tools to succeed. 1-2-1 classrooms and intensive professional development are showing great promise as a way to turn around the lowest performing schools with the worst drop out rates. Why are we waiting on the rest of the world to show us how to use technology effectively in our schools?

  • Kelly

    This is in response to Lynne’s post on April 2nd.

    I’m a 21-year-old college student majoring in elementary education. I have met all of the college requirements, passed all three MTEL exams, and am ready to do my student teaching. After reading your post, along with the many other posts, and listening to the radio program, I have to be honest and say that I am very nervous to enter the education profession. I want to be able to instill my love for learning in my future students. I don’t want my creativity as a teacher to be restrained to teaching test-taking skills. When I am asked what I’m studying at school and I answer that I want to become a teacher, I’ve heard many times (over and over again) “Good Luck!” Many people warn me that it’s a 24/7 job and I will be underpaid. I understand the dedication it takes to become a successful teacher and I am ready to put in the hard work. So far I haven’t let others influence my decision to become a teacher. I was hoping you could offer me some advice?

  • http://www.surveymagnet.com Survey Magnet

    We have an interesting debate going on about this subject at the following link:


    Come join the discussion.

  • Kilroy’s Delaware

    I find it very interesting that DOE Dan didn’t inform the listening public that Delaware has a “specific interest” clause in its charter school laws that allow charter schools to discriminate applicants based on intelligence determined by standardized test schools, GPA and charter school entrance exams.

    Delaware Code Title 14, Chapter 5: 506 (b)(3)(c)
    “c. Students who have a specific interest in the school’s teaching methods, philosophy, or educational focus;”


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