GAO Issues RttT Progress Report
The Government Accountability Office recently released a report looking into the progress made by Race to the Top states (RTT). From this vantage point, it comes as no surprise that there are difficulties.
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Almost all the states face implementation delays. Drawdown rates tell part of that story. According to the report, as of June 2011, only about 12 percent of the first-year grant funds have been spent — and that 12 percent is generous, frankly, because it includes the Phase 1 winners, Delaware and Tennessee. They had a substantial jump on their peers and, with that lead, Delaware has drawn down 50 percent of its year one budget, while Tennessee stands at 36 percent. These numbers help hike the national average, and the help is needed. A few states — I’m looking at you, New York, Rhode Island and Maryland — have not even crossed the 5 percent drawdown benchmark.
Operational obstacles tell another part of the story. For example, the GAO report describes how state education departments have struggled to hire the right people. The roles are demanding, and the best candidates tend to already have jobs that pay better. In a bad economy, there is little incentive for them to leave their current gig and risk stability for uncertainty. And, even if they could get the right people, states still would have to navigate the traps of a highly regulated sector. This means managing the mechanics (and delays) of requests for proposals, revising and renegotiating program amendments with the U.S. Department of Education when anything changes, and trudging through the compliance quicksand that slows the process down.
Finally, and most foreseeably, the substantive work completes the story. The administration will spend about 33 percent of all RTT awards on developing effective teachers and leaders. This is the most controversial reform priority — and a certain candidate for delays.
Did states think they could just roll the whole shebang out in a timely fashion? No way. The GAO report does not address the time issues, but if you’ve been following the news, you know just how contentious the topic has been.
In 2010, for example, New York passed a teacher-evaluation law as a part of its RTT program. The mandate called on the state education department to develop a value-added growth model, which it did this May. Meanwhile, the New York City Department of Education tried to analyze and publish its own value-added methodology, but the teachers union sued the department over the matter. The union then sued the state. The use of the value-added methodology is now tied up in court, totally complicating the state’s implementation timeline.
Nontheless, it’s far too early to waive the white flag. The states have the full four-year grant period to draw down their funds. This will allow the recipients to redistribute their year-one budgets across the four-year timeline. It also is likely that states will accelerate spending as implementation accelerates. But that, of course, assumes that implementation will — in time — accelerate.