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‘Race to the Top’ motivates schools to reform, but changes may not last

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Kai Ryssdal: The economic stimulus bill that Congress and the White House passed last year had a whole bunch of stuff in it, obviously. $787 billion does cover a lot of ground — including more than $4 billion for the Department of Education’s flagship reform program, “Race to the Top.” Today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the next set of winners in that race. Eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, that made some major changes to how they go about the business of education. We are not here to talk about the winners, though.

We asked Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer to look at the states that overhauled their education systems and still didn’t win. What do they do now?

Nancy Marshall Genzer: There’s a lot at stake in the Race to the Top competition. Hundreds of millions of dollars for states that agree to certain education reforms, like allowing more charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student performance. When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top winners today, he said a tide of reform is sweeping through the nation’s schools.

Arne Duncan: This entire process has moved the nation and advanced education reform. Children are the big winners here.

The Obama Administration doesn’t make out too badly, either. It convinced many states to apply for Race to the Top money, got them to ram changes in education law through their legislatures and take on their teachers unions. And some of those states still got nothing. The administration got the reforms it wanted, just by dangling cash.

University of Southern California education Professor Guilbert Hentschke.

Guilbert Hentschke: They dangled it, and a lot of us responded. So it’s pretty clever don’t you think?

Um, maybe. Secretary Duncan says states aren’t going to roll back the reforms they promised just because they didn’t get any money. But some cash-strapped states will have no choice.

Jennifer Cohen analyzes education policy at the New America Foundation.

Jennifer Cohen: Following through on the reforms that they proposed in their Race to the Top applications may be impossible.

Secretary Duncan says, never fear. He’s got other education grants to dole out, at least this year. Next year, may be different. Congress is in a budget-cutting mood.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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