Thought you might be interested in the latest AEI Education Stimulus Watch, a series of special reports on the K-12 education implications of the federal government's economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In this fourth report, "Politics and Scoring of Race to the Top Applications," Daniel H. Bowen of the University of Arkansas takes a closer look at the Department of Education's scoring process in the Race to the Top (RTT) grant competition. Bowen compares the actual scores of the first-round RTT finalists with his own projected scores (created by using independent studies of the states' education-reform efforts). He finds that the disparities raise red flags about the objectivity of the process, and that scoring may have been affected by political influences.
Among the key points:
To explore concerns over political influence, Bowen used a regression analysis incorporating the current status of key races in each state (at the time of the first-round of RTT) and an education-reform index that reflects a state's demonstrated reform efforts. He checked whether states of greater interest to the White House received preferential grades on their RTT applications.
Bowen's analysis suggests that the status of a state's Senate and gubernatorial races for the 2010 election (that is, highly contested elections) explained up to a seventy-seven-point increase (out of five hundred) in the final score.
These findings might explain the higher-than-projected final rankings for first-round finalist states such as Delaware, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, where close races are on the horizon. They could also explain the disappointing final scores for states that had high projected scores, but lacked contested political races, such as Louisiana, North Carolina, Arizona, and South Carolina.
Bowen concludes that the great weakness of RTT as a competitive grant program is that the judging is subjective as much of the determining criteria is open to interpretation. He recommends that the federal government formulate a more systematic, objective, and transparent approach to the award process to create a truly successful grant competition.
Daniel H. Bowen, a distinguished doctoral fellow of education policy at the University of Arkansas, may be contacted through Jenna Schuette at email@example.com (202.862.5809). For additional media inquiries, please contact Veronique Rodman at firstname.lastname@example.org (202.862.4871) or Sara Huneke at email@example.com (202.862.4870).