It’s interesting to watch the news on Race to the Top winner states backpeddling on their promises unfold at the same time as the new Early Learning Challenge RTT competition is rolling out. The original Race to the Top was based on a mishmash of rewarding states for things they’d actually done or put in place, and for things they hadn’t yet done, but planned to do. To the extent that Race to the Top’s rewards for things states had actually done pressed states to move quickly to enact legislative and policy changes, it seems to have been pretty successful in doing that. It’s no so clear we’ll have as much to show from the things states promised to do. At the time RTT came out, some critics said the criteria and scoring leaned too much in the direction of rewarding states for plans, rather than completed actions. Recent news seems to be bearing some of that criticism out.
That’s particularly concerning looking at the Early Learning Challenge RTT competition, because if anything, Early Learning Challenge falls even more on the side of rewarding states for things they say they plan to do–as opposed to things they’ve already done–than the original RTT did. That’s probably inevitable, given that a.) most state’s don’t have all the core elements of the ELC criteria in place; b.) this competition won’t be able to drive much in the way of new legislation because of the grant timelines don’t line up well with legislative sessions; and c.) This ELC program smooshes together two separate programs–one for states that already had infrastructure in place, and one for those working to create it–that were laid out in the original ELC legislation that was included, but then jettisoned, from last year’s student aid reform legislation. But don’t be surprised if a year or so from now we’re reading stories about states pushing back timelines for kindergarten entry assessments or statewide QRIS roll-outs (actually, maybe, be a little surprised, but only because the press generally doesn’t pay as much attention to early childhood as they do to K-12 education, and this program has largely flown under the radar in that way.)