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March 30, 2010

Race to the Top Redux

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education named its winners for the competitive Race to the Top education funds. Unsurprisingly, New York was not one of them. New York, in fact, came in 15th out of 16 finalists and was one of the few states to actually lose points after their final round presentation.

To better understand the results, we reviewed the judges’ evaluations of New York’s application. We were curious to find out where the State lost the most points and what it would need to do to improve its chances in Round 2. Of note is the emphasis that the judges placed on school turnaround efforts—something that will surely be more of a factor in Round 2 should New York City’s school closure efforts fail in the wake of last Friday’s ruling.

Areas Where NY Lost the Most Points:

  • Data Systems to Support Instruction: Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system.

Points Lost: 14

Why? "Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system – applicant has implemented 5 of 12 America Competes Act elements." (Elements of the act include data on how well students transition from secondary to post-secondary education as well as teacher identifier systems that have the ability to match teachers to students.)

  • General: Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools.

Points Lost: 12.6


  • “NY has a hard cap on start-up charter schools. When asked to comment on the cap, the NY team’s response was not convincing enough to allay fears that, as a state, NY lacks the collective will to make critical changes to existing laws that act as impediments to substantive reform. A limit of 200 start-up charters in a state with over 4500 schools, coupled with the lack of a convincing rational for such a cap, is significant and cause for a further deduction in this area.”
  • “In addition, the seemingly strong pressure applied to applicants to enroll a healthy percentage of subgroups to receive authorization (meaning greater than, not similar to, their percentages in the local district student population), there is concern that the rigor that is being applied to the authorization and monitoring of charter schools, while helping to ensure their success, might be causing the State’s approach to serve as a deterrent to a reasonable number of charters and the growth and types of them.”
  • Great Teachers and Leaders: Using evaluations to inform key decisions

Points Lost: 11


  • “The narrative did not discuss tenure, but the career ladder design that was included shows tenure continuing to be granted after just three years. The proposal was silent on removing ineffective teachers.”
  • “Applicant does not address strategies for agreements that support the new performance evaluation systems. Applicant will need to be successful in securing collective bargaining agreements that support the new performance evaluation systems.”
  • State Success Factors: Securing Local Education Agency (LEA) commitment

Points Lost: 7.8


  • “There is, however, a provision that nothing in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that contradicts language in a collective bargaining agreement shall be binding. While the MOU does stipulate that LEAs and their unions will agree to bargain in good faith around the elements of the state reform plan that are superseded by collective bargaining language, the fact that in the end the collective bargaining agreements can undermine a significant portion of the State’s reform plan is a probable. Despite this fact, NY was only able to obtain 61% of the applicable districts’ union leaders.”
  • Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools: Turning around the persistently lowest-achieving schools

Points Lost: 5.8


  • “Despite the legal authority to do so and the technical ability to identify the lowest achieving schools, the state has been slow to intervene dramatically in enough schools. In a state where there are over 4000 schools, it appears that the state has only made efforts to close a small handful of chronically low performing schools over the past 5 years. As such, when considering the state’s historic performance in intervening and turning around the persistently lowest-performing schools, the credibility of the plan moving forward is undermined. Moreover, the targets set for intervention as a part of this new plan are also not particularly aggressive.”

Overall, these five categories account for 51.2 points, or more than 50% of what was deducted from NY State’s application by the judges. NY’s final score was 408.6 out of 500 possible points. Going forward, if the cutoff were to remain the same for Round 2, New York would need at least 36 points to become a winner.

BONUS: Three of the judges remarked on New York's request for several $550 “Executive Chairs.” One judge wrote: “There are projected expenses (e.g. $550 for executive chairs) that call into question NY’s judgment on responsible stewardship of funds.” We’ll give a prize to the winner who can spot the best budget request in NY’s application—all 350 pages of it.


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