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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Did Florida deserve Race to the Top funds? Depends who you ask



Even before the official announcement, as the 10 winners leaked out one by one, pundits were pondering whether the states that received Race to the Top education reform grants were worthy.

How did Hawaii rate while Louisiana didn't? Where's Colorado? Maryland?!

Few talked about Florida. Considered a lock when it lost in the first round, the Sunshine State came through in the second round after it won more support from teachers unions (a big deal in the application) but failed to adopt tougher teacher evaluation systems (also a key part of the federal expectations).

Did it deserve the money?

Mike Petrilli of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute says yes, if for no other reason than its past performance.

"No doubt Florida is one of the handful of states that is leading the nation in education reforms," Petrilli told the Gradebook. "Florida has already got a lot of the reforms in place."

He acknowledged the state didn't exactly meet all of the criteria, and that the unions created lots of wiggle room to get out of the state's plans. But that's probably the way it got the money. "It sounds like Florida played the game right."

Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, another conservative think tank, shared the wariness in her evaluation of Florida's award. Sure, Florida has a history of reform, but ...

"While the District of Columbia and Florida deserve to be rewarded for their strong and often controversial commitment to education reform, it does not appear that they 'won' the race for the same reasons most reformers regard them highly," Allen wrote in a statement.

"School choice and charter school programs did not matter much in Race to the Top’s scoring, but it’s likely that teacher contract reform counted for something in the case of DC. However, while Florida leads the pack in the use of data for accountability, the governor’s recent veto of a teacher tenure reform bill raises questions about this R2TT award and the Administration’s real views on teacher contract reform."

Teachers reps, on the other hand, praised Florida's collaborative spirit as making it most deserving.

"Take Florida, for example,"AFT national president Randi Weingarten said in a release. "After being shut out of the discussion in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, teachers fought for and won a seat at the table, where they played a key role in keeping the focus on what students need and what works in their classrooms."

Now, judging by comments on our story, it appears that some readers don't think the effort was worth it. $700 million is a pittance in comparison to the requirements and red tape that come with the Race to the Top, according to some. So what do you think? Deserving? Worth it?

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 25, 2010 6:17am]


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