Did Tennessee Win Race To The Top By Knowingly Setting Impossible Goals?

Since awarding $500 million to Tennessee in the first round of Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been involved highly involved in the state, even calling Tennessee "Exhibit A" in reforms that value teachers. Credit: TN Photo Services

Since awarding $500 million to Tennessee in the first round of Race to the Top, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been involved highly involved in the state, even calling Tennessee “Exhibit A” in reforms that value teachers. Credit: TN Photo Services

A new report from the liberal Economic Policy Institute suggests Tennessee won half a billion dollars in education funding – in part – by exaggerating what it could do with the money. The Washington think tank is trying to keep Race to the Top from being a model for education spending going forward.

The EPI never liked the reform program, suggesting the White House was interested in quick fixes and that nearly every state was promising results they could never deliver.

The new report focuses on Tennessee. Author Elaine Weiss points out the state – as many other winners did – set goals of having all kids proficient in math and reading on state standardized tests by this school year.

“I mean literally, when I say impossible, I’m not exaggerating. Things that are impossible in the sense that they’ve never been done. There’s no evidence that any intervention or set of interventions could enable them to happen.”

A Tennessee Department of Education spokesperson says the new goal is to be the fastest improving state in the nation.

But as the Race to the Top spending winds down, state officials point out that they did do what was thought impossible to get the money. The teachers union and school districts backed a new teacher evaluation system based on student test scores. They also went along with making tenure more difficult to get and expanding alternative certification programs while also adopting more rigorous classroom standards.

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