WaPo’s Nick Anderson goes for the ‘Duncan is cozying up with the unions’ line about Race to the Top. It’s an easy line to sell because it confirms pre-existing biases about Democrats and teachers’ unions and plenty of people are happy to try to score partisan points by making the case. Only problem? It’s not the cause of how RTT scoring came out. Winner and loser states were all over the place on stakeholder support. Even Smarick, who started this line of argument, has backed off. Yet it’s become one of these “everybody knows” kind of things. And it’s apparently too good to check. Here’s the usually skeptical Richard Colvin falling for the causation – correlation on stakeholder support.
In fact, a problem is that it’s unclear if reviewers even applied the stakeholder support standard consistently. Did some just apply it to the point categories based on stakeholder buy-in while others applied it as a more general plausibility test across key aspects of the different proposals? You can argue it both ways from the reviewer comments. And that’s the more general problem with the scoring — albeit one that is less useful to partisans and critics of Secretary Duncan — there is too much randomness. The WaPo editorial page gets at that in the case of D.C citing the reviewer who criticized D.C. for having too much ambition…in a competition that was supposed to be about ambitious reform.
Secretary Duncan didn’t help matters when he pointed to stakeholder buy-in while announcing the winners, but that’s the sort of ex post facto political move that’s par for the course with these kinds of things. The unions haven’t been happy with the administration of late, so here’s an easy way to throw them a bone based on how the scoring came out. Had the reviewers landed on Louisiana, Florida, and Rhode Island as top tier states along with DE and TN, which would have been a perfectly defensible outcome based on the applications, the message would have likely been different.
By the way, a second myth that is taking hold is the idea that Delaware’s teacher eval system is state of the art. It actually has an arguably low bar for what constitutes “effective” (less than a year’s worth of growth will get you there). The reviewers didn’t focus on that nor have the chatterers. Also, kudos to DE state teachers’ union leader Diane Donohue for some candor about the challenges ahead. In both states we’ll see how long the era of good feelings lasts.
Update: Colvin objects saying it’s undeniable that stakeholder support added points. Sure, of course. But, on a 500 point competition, with those points spread across multiple categories, you can say that about just about anything. In other words, you could also say both these states won because of x, y, or z. The issue is whether this or x, y, or z was systematic and/or causal or just reasons grafted onto these states after the fact. Based on the overall scoring it appears to be the latter.