This article by Nathan Robinson, editor of “Current Affairs,” brilliantly explains why Race to the Top was not only a failure but a disaster.  

Schools in Detroit were crumbling, but Detroit got not a penny of the windfall.

Here is a sample:

“There is something deeply objectionable about nearly every part of Race To The Top. First, the very idea of having states scramble to compete for federal funds means that children are given additional support based on how good their state legislatures are at pleasing the president, rather than how much those children need support. Michigan got no Race to the Top money, and Detroit’s schools didn’t see a penny of this $4.2 billion, because it didn’t win the “race.” This “fight to the death” approach (come to think of it, a better name for the program) was novel, since “historically, most federal education funds have been distributed through categorical grant programs that allocate money to districts on the basis of need-based formulas.” Here, though, one can see how Obama’s neoliberal politics differed in its approach from the New Deal liberalism of old: Once upon a time, liberals talking about how to fix schools would talk about making sure all teachers had the resources they needed to give students a quality education. Now, they were importing the competitive capitalist model into government: Show results or find yourself financially starved.

“The focus on “innovation,” data, and technology is misguided, too. Innovation is not necessarily improvement—it’s easy to make something new that isn’t actually any better. The poor learning outcomes of online courses are evidence that sometimes the old methods are best. An Obama administration report on how schools innovated in response to RTT is mostly waffle about “partnering with stakeholders” but also contains descriptions of “21st century” measures like the following:

The majority of Race to the Top states reported to the RSN that they are using or expanding their use of social media communication to keep stakeholders engaged and informed. Ohio, for example, embraced Twitter to communicate with teachers, principals and district leaders during its annual state conference in 2012. “One of the keys to success on Twitter is tweeting a lot — five to seven times a day — morning, noon and at night,” said Michael Sponhour, executive director of communications and outreach for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). Ohio measures its success on Twitter by the number of tweets that are “retweeted” by its followers; about 70 percent of ODE’s tweets are retweeted, he said.

“So people at state departments of education are being paid to tweet morning, noon, and night, with nearly ⅓ of the tweets not getting so much as a single retweet, while St. Louis’ beautiful old public school buildings are closed, abandoned, and auctioned off. Delaware “was able to use RTT funds to place data coaches in every school,” even as the steam pipe kept leaking onto that playground in Detroit.

“The pro-RTT literature promotes the education reform line of Bill Gates and charter advocates, stressing the need for “accountability” and “evaluation.” There is a mistrust of teachers: The premise here is that unless teachers have the right incentives, they will perform badly. There is an underlying acceptance here of the free market principle that government services do not perform well because they lack the kind of economic rewards and punishments that exist in the private sector. So we should introduce competitive marketplaces in schools (i.e., charterize the system) and do constant assessments of teacher job performance to weed out the Bad Teachers. Race To The Top literature talks about “turning around failing schools,” not “fixing inequality in schools,” and some civil rights activists criticized the program for failing to consider school segregation and inequality in its picture of the country’s educational woes. …

”RTT was wrong in a thousand ways. It prioritized data collection for its own sake, and in spite of its focus on “achievement” and evidence-based policy, didn’t actually boost achievement and wasn’t based on evidence. It was just free market ideology. Instead of talking about adding yet more assessments of teacher performance, we should be talking about the fact that teachers across the country have to buy their own school supplies, and the profession offers too much work for too little pay to attract good candidates who will stay for the long term. No more races to the top. What we need is a race to make sure every school has a music teacher, every building is safe and beautiful and well-maintained, every child is well-fed, every classroom is full of books and supplies, and every teacher has what they need in order to help children discover the world of knowledge.“