Four Years Later, Are Race to the Top States on Track?

CAP LogoAs summarized here, the federal government has recently reported on the success of the Race to the Top program. But can we know the impact of Race to the Top after only four years? A new report by Tiffany D. Miller and Robert Hanna at the Center for American Progress suggest that we truly can’t, although what little evidence we have is generally positive.

Race to the Top is a first-of-its kind $4.35 billion competitive grant program designed to spur state-level education innovation to boost student achievement, close achievement gaps, and prepare students for college and careers. This program is significant not only because of the amount of funds made available for competitive grants to states but also because it pushes them to radically change the way they think about educational improvement. Race to the Top, or RTT, encourages states to rethink current standards and raise expectations for all students. It makes building longitudinal data systems a key component of the program, knowing that unless these systems are in place, there is no systematic way to target professional development for educators, ensure equitable distribution of teachers, or turn around low-performing schools.

March 2014 marked four years since the first grants were announced, and within the next year, the RTT funding to these initial set of states will end (except for those states that have been granted extensions). Though the department hired three well-respected research firms to conduct a comprehensive evaluation, the results will not be made publicly available for several years. Until then, it is important to assess, to the extent possible, the progress that states are making along the way.

The report evaluates such key issues as:

  • State progress on RTT’s four Components
  • College and Career-Ready Standards
  • Recruiting, evaluating, and retaining highly effective teachers and principals
  • Building data systems to ensure success
  • Turning around the lowest-performing schools

But the final analysis is inconclusive:

In short, the ultimate result of RTT will not be known for several years, as evaluation of the initiative continues. Indeed, many states faced challenges meeting their goals and will likely continue to do so. Although states have struggled through different aspects of the program, RTT sparked significant education reforms, specifically a widespread move to college- and career-ready standards, which is creating conditions for innovation, strengthening educator quality along the career spectrum, and pushing other states that did not receive RTT funds in the same direction. What’s more, despite these challenges, RTT states reached important milestones and accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time.

To read the full report, please visit: