Among the conservatives who comment on education, Rick Hess is consistently the most thoughtful. I often disagree with him, for example, about choice and for-profit schooling. But I am often impressed by his thoughtfulness and pleasantly surprised by his willingness to question “reform” dogma.

Here is a column that is a great example of Rick’s insight. In it, he essentially concludes that Race to the Top failed because it told the states what to do instead of asking for their best ideas. He is not the first conservative to question this strategy. States are good at promising to comply with mandates but if their hearts are not in it, don’t expect much.

Rick wisely points out that Race to the Top imposed the Common Core standards and by doing so, fomented the eventual pushback and controversy. Because of Arne Duncan’s eagerness to boast of fast results, he created problems that he could not control. Rick says the same thing about teacher evaluation. Race to the Top forced all states eager for federal funds to adopt a new teacher evaluation program without knowing how to do it. Early returns show that 95% or more of teachers are rated “effective” or higher, so what was the point of the hundreds of millions spent to create those systems.

One might say much the same about Duncan’s beloved turnarounds. They have not produced much in the way of lasting, positive results.

Rick’s conclusion about the $4.35 billion spent on Race to the Top?

“The result: the sugar high that Race to the Top used to fuel reform in 2009 is likely to be undone, and then some, by the legacy of half-baked, federal compulsion.

“What President Obama termed “the most meaningful education reform in a generation” has proven, for my money, to be more a cautionary tale than a model.”

This has been a period of unprecedented turmoil in American schooling. Unless you are in love with the idea of disruption, as many reformers are, there is not much to celebrate.